Expo Labrador postponed as members aid fellow Labradorians

Posted on June 21, 2024 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments

 

 

A photo from a past Expo Labrador event. Focused on economic development in Labrador, the event is hosted by the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce (chamberlabrador.com)

 

The Labrador North Chamber of Commerce (LNCC) has postponed its keystone event, Expo Labrador, focused on major projects and economic development in the region. It was set to cause a challenging influx of people into the Town of Happy Valley Goose-Bay in the coming week, with over 400 participants.

The delay allows member businesses and individuals to continue to help with the response to threatening wildfires in the region, including aid for the ongoing displacement of hundreds of people from the remote Town of Churchill Falls, about 300 kilometres away by road.

“When we were alerted of the evacuation of Churchill Falls, the decision to postpone came rather quickly,” LNCC CEO Julianne Griffin told Atlantic Business Magazine, while continuing to work through a long list of notifications Thursday evening. The Expo was to host Premier of Nunavut Pauloosie Jamesie (P.J.) Akeeagok and a delegation from the territory, in addition to a long list of representatives from governments, associations and individual businesses.

Less than 24 hours earlier, winds around Churchill Falls picked up to about 70 kilometres an hour, helping what’s known as wildfire 607 to race across roughly two kilometres of territory in just 45 minutes. In a press conference Thursday, both provincial Forestry Minister Elvis Loveless and Premier Andrew Furey said the rapid movement brought the fire to a pre-determined threshold, triggering the evacuation.

A screen capture from Friday morning, showing roughly the location of wildfire 607. The fire so far has remained on the South side of the Churchill River, according to Premier Andrew Furey, Minister Elvis Loveless and provincial officials tracking its movement.

 

Churchill Falls is considered a company town of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, created first as the site of a construction base and then building over decades to a substantial community, a service centre for the Churchill Falls Generating Station.

An estimated 750 people in Churchill Falls were ordered out, with the town cleared by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro staff. It resulted in a long line of hundreds of vehicles moving slowly but reportedly orderly out the highway, directed to a check-in point at Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Ultimately, some people opted to travel to Labrador West but the majority were absorbed into Happy Valley-Goose Bay and surrounding communities including Northwest River and the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, staying with family and friends, local campgrounds and other Labradorians who have opened their homes.

In addition to being a check-in location, resources were offered at the YMCA in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Municipal and provincial government members indicated additional beds were available at both the residence buildings at the 5 Wing Goose Bay military base and, if they’d been needed, the yet-to-be-decommissioned Muskrat Falls construction camp buildings.

Mainly, beds and a wide variety of emergency supports were and continue to be offered by locals to their fellow Labradorians. The offers started from the point an evacuation order was issued, with businesses in Happy Valley-Goose Bay extending hours or reopening that evening, to be available for Churchill Falls residents as they arrived, travelling through a lightning storm and periods of downpour. As an example, the NorthMart in Happy Valley-Goose Bay reopened late in the evening and stayed open through midnight, also changing hours for the remainder of the week. A local Eclipse clothing store offered an additional discount for all Churchill Falls residents. The Labrador Dental Clinic offered free toothbrushes for anyone who had to leave their homes and didn’t have one with them. People offered up available beds and dropped off a variety of supplies at the YMCA, supporting Salvation Army services there.

“Our goal was to assist with supports, not cause additional challenges, particularly surrounding accommodations for emergency personnel.”

– Julianne Griffin, LNCC CEO

At the LNCC, while the decision to postpone the Expo event was quick to follow the evacuation order, Griffin told Atlantic Business Magazine she and others with the chamber spent most of the day alerting event partners, sponsors, venues, delegates and hoteliers.

“Our goal was to assist with supports, not cause additional challenges, particularly surrounding accommodations for emergency personnel. We have already released several rooms to forestry officials and will continue further support activities,” she said.

The Expo is an important revenue generator for the LNCC, something Griffin acknowledged, “though our first priority will always be the safety of our communities.” If the event can move ahead at a later date without issue, it will minimize the financial impacts.

Griffin said no new dates have been decided; the LNCC is hoping to reschedule for early fall.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro did retain some employees in Churchill Falls for the continued operation of the power plant. Apart from Hydro staff, there are personnel for essential service providers and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary members, with a total of about 40 people left in the town as of last update prior to publication (Thursday night).

CEO Jennifer Williams confirmed no change in the plant’s output, with status quo operations through Thursday. But Williams made a point to mention offers of assistance from major power customers in the region, including Labrador West mine owner IOC. “When you go through these really trying situations, it’s pretty impressive to see how everybody is really keen to step up and participate and help out,” she said.

 

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay was itself not in a state of emergency, but the evacuation order issued for Churchill Falls did trigger certain aspects of the town’s emergency plan and led to the establishment of an emergency operations centre and bed spaces at the local YMCA. The beds are no longer needed, according to the local MHA, with people finding arrangements with people within the community, its neighbours and in the towns of Western Labrador.

 

With the emergency operations centre (EOC) registration desk and shelter spaces at the YMCA in Happy Valley-Goose Bay “no longer required” as of Thursday evening, according to local MHA Perry Trimper, the EOC was closed as of 5 p.m. and beds started to be packed up.

Displaced individuals remain housed throughout the area and are not yet able to return home.

“We know that returning home safely is important to our residents. Based on the latest information from Forestry Officials, they do not expect any change in the evacuation order over the next 24 to 48 hours,” Trimper—who has been in town and active in the response—posted to Facebook at about 5 p.m.

A provincial operations centre is still operating in St. John’s, working the fire in coordination with Forestry staff operating out of a base in Central Newfoundland. In addition to provincial waterbombers and helicopters, they are coordinating additional firefighting resources, with two additional waterbombers arriving from Quebec Friday morning.

As of Friday morning, 11 wildfires are active in Newfoundland and Labrador, up from seven the afternoon before. Wildfire 607, nearest Churchill Falls, remains out of control.

Updates on the wildfires are being posted to the province’s Active Wildfire Dashboard. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is posting updates to its web page and on social media channels.


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