Residents decry bungled blasting

Wheelie-popping, doughnut-performing construction workers shouldn’t play with dynamite. That’s what residents of Lobird subdivision told…

Wheelie-popping, doughnut-performing construction workers shouldn’t play with dynamite.

That’s what residents of Lobird subdivision told government officials during a sometimes-heated public meeting on Thursday night.

They were frustrated after enduring a veritable meteor shower of falling rocks last Tuesday following a botched blast by Sidhu Trucking, the contractor responsible for completing the Hamilton Boulevard extension.

But that wasn’t the first time rocks had fallen on the neighbourhood, said residents.

During the very first blast in the area, a few cars and trailers were sprayed with stones and debris.

The contractor’s employees are “fly-by-night cowboys” who treat heavy equipment like toys, said residents.

“They’re like a bunch of cowboys with new Tonka Trucks,” said one woman.

Residents have seen workers popping wheelies and performing doughnuts with a front-end loader.

“I’m going to tell you right off the bat — this is unacceptable,” said Scott Parker, a blasting specialist from North Vancouver who acted as a mediator throughout the meeting.

It was difficult for residents to get angry with this bespectacled man who tried to lighten up the mood with ill-timed jokes told in a soft, hoarse voice.

The fly rock that rained down on Lobird subdivision last week was caused by one malfunctioning hole, Parker told the crowd.

“And you’re going to love this; he probably underloaded that hole, not overloaded it.

“And that was the one that rifled and threw the rock up onto the trailers.”

The blaster had 20 years of experience doing the job, said Parker.

“Think about putting your job on the line every day for 20 years — for 20 years you’re a hero and then in one second something like this happens.

“So I think we have to take that into consideration.”

The blast is currently under investigation by Operational Health and Safety.

So far there have been 40 blasts for the road-extension project and at least two of those have been botched.

Not a very comforting ratio.

“We still have more blasting to do,” said Jeff Boehmer, the territorial government’s manager for the project.

Five more blasts are necessary to move 10,000 cubic metres of rock from the area directly below the trailer park.

Another 40,000 cubic metres of rock have to be blasted from the area just above the top of Robert Service way.

But don’t worry, Parker told the residents, that blast won’t be in your direction.

“So where will it go, toward the Alaska Highway?” asked one woman.

“Am I going to have to be afraid every time I drive to and from my home?”

There will be no more large surface blasting, Parker told the crowd.

A detailed blast plan will be drawn up and presented to Parker for approval before any work with explosives is continued.

From now on, there will be video taken of every blast, he said.

The company will be told to blast fewer holes at one time and use much more precaution.

The shots are going to be covered with sand and blasting mats.

Why wasn’t this done before? the crowd asked.

Why did the government allow this to happen?

“We do regular inspections,” said Kurt Dieckmann from Operational Health and Safety.

“But we can’t be there all of the time.”

Dieckmann likened it to a police officer pulling over a driver and seeing that everything was OK and letting the driver continue.

If the driver then goes home, has five beers, gets back on the road and kills someone, is it the cop’s fault?

The problem with your analogy is that there are thousands of cars on the road, said Russ Carpenter.

“There’s only one blast.”

With only three inspectors on staff, there’s no way that they can be there for every blast, Dieckmann replied.

If residents say that there were questionable things happening at the site, then they should have called Operational Health and Safety, he said.

“Isn’t that just passing the buck?” asked a Lobird resident.

“We shouldn’t have to complain. We don’t rely on Sidhu to keep us safe; we rely on you guys.”

Operational Health and Safety’s investigation into the matter will take two to three months.

The now-infamous blast sent a shower of granite rock and debris into the Lobird subdivision.

A couple of children playing outside mistook the rock debris for a flock of birds.

A 22-kilogram rock fell through Carpenter’s ceiling, falling less than a metre away from his family, who were watching TV at the time.

“No one offered us a place to stay,” said Candace Carpenter.

“No one has even come up and said they were sorry.”

Five homes were damaged, though, remarkably, no one was killed or badly injured.

Other blasts have been equally disturbing, said Shelly Scott-Kowalyshen.

“Other blasts have shifted my trailer and broken the seals on my window and we’ve never been warned of blasts ahead of time — you can’t even hear the warning siren.”

As well, residents were nearly smoked out of their homes when the contractor burnt large piles of debris.

Residents complained that they didn’t know who to call when the incident took place.

Nobody even knew who the contractor was because there are no signs in the area to say who is in charge of the project.

“I found it very disquieting to call the RCMP and be told that there was nothing they could do,” said Morris Lamrock.

“There’s something wrong with that.”

Boehmer had told the RCMP to have people contact him if there were any complaints about the project, he said.

Boehmer is the project manager and any problems in the future can and should be directed to him.

A public meeting should have been held to explain the blasting and what to expect, said Parker.

The residents suggested that the blasters distribute a tentative schedule so that they know when blasting will take place.

“I don’t trust it anymore,” said woman.

“I’d like to be notified so that I can leave.”

This hasn’t been done in the past because it’s impossible to tell exactly when the blast will take place, said Parker.

Safety must come first and the blasters have to ensure that everything is in order before they can flip the switch.

One of the involved parties was noticeably absent from the meeting — a representative from Sidhu Trucking.

Boehmer and crew pointed to the contractor whenever someone asked who was responsible.

Why weren’t they there?

“Because this gentlemen here would have punched his lights out,” said Parker as he continued his bumbling comedy routine that, surprisingly, seemed to win the residents over.

However, the outspoken man that he pointed to returned the comment with a cold stare.

That particular man left the meeting early.

“Well, I think I’ve heard enough,” he said as he approached Parker to shake his hand.

“Thanks for your time, thanks for coming, but you’re full of shit, man.”

Both Community Services Minister Glenn Hart and Arthur Mitchell, the MLA for the Lobird area, attended the meeting.

The government should create a complaint log system so that each resident doesn’t have to go through the process of contacting Sidhu and its insurance provider, said Mitchell.

Sidhu hasn’t been answering its phones lately.

But who issued that contract to Sidhu, asked one of the residents.

“You gave the contract to Sidhu because it had the lowest bid and his subcontractors were the lowest bid.

“This whole thing has been lowballed and lowbrained.”

All the residents displayed understandable frustration with the entire extension project.

“You’re destroying our quality of life for your road,” said one resident.

“We don’t want that road. It’s for Copper Ridge. Just so they can get into town two minutes quicker.”