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City water facility in dire straits

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen met with community members to discuss city infrastructure. - Shannon Lough/Northern View
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen met with community members to discuss city infrastructure.
— image credit: Shannon Lough/Northern View

The federal government has promised to dig deep into its coffers to pump up infrastructure across the country and Prince Rupert residents, with the Skeena-Bulklely Valley MP, Nathan Cullen, hashed out a wish list for the area.

At a public meeting on Feb. 9, Cullen heard from a small group of people who shared their concerns about the city’s infrastructure. He explained that the government has been talking about giving a boost to social infrastructure, such as libraries, women’s shelters and education, as well as green infrastructure and transport infrastructure.

“They haven’t given us any details yet so this is a good opportunity because the picture hasn’t totally been set yet,” Cullen said. “We want to base it in what people were actually thinking about in their community and what matters to them.”

Before the group discussion began, engineering coordinator for the City of Prince Rupert, Richard Pucci, painted a realistic and grim picture of what kind of infrastructure issues the city is dealing with. He warned the people in the room that asking for shiny objects isn’t exactly what the city needs right now.

“The better use of funds is to maintain and upgrade what we have instead of going and developing art space and new rinks and new ball diamonds and all that,” Pucci said.

The City has $120 million worth of projects that it is behind on maintaining and each year that deficit grows another $4 million. For example, Pucci said that the City needs to put $2 million into road maintenance each year but it can only afford $400,000, which is why the roads are in poor conditions.

The drinking water situation was the most shocking to some people in the room who said they had no idea the system was so outdated — and possibly perilous.

Pucci explained how the water comes from Woodworth Lake on the mainland in the mountains. For public works to access the facility they have to take a boat and a truck, drive on a quad for 20 minutes and then hike the rest of the way. The only other option is to rent a helicopter.

The most concerning section of the water facility is that a spare section of pipe that is more than 100 years old with sections of it laying on the ground or strapped to the side of a cliff making it susceptible to landslides.

“My goal in the next five to 10 years is to replace our water supply system. I would like to have a new dam put in. This stuff is over 100 years old. It is going to fail. It’s not a question of how but a question of when and how much time we have left on it,” Pucci said.

When Cullen asked what this town needs ‘most right now’ water was top of mind for the people in the room after Pucci’s speech.

Critical water infrastructure was number one on the wish list. Basically, the people in the room said they would like to see the city water facilities meet today’s standards, for it to be reliable and for sewage treatment to be introduced.

The second biggest concern was social housing. Many people spoke of the need for more affordable housing, such as co-op housing. Someone also suggested bringing a men’s shelter into the area and one man wanted to consider a solar panel plan as an alternative source of energy for the city.

Other mentions were recreational infrastructure, to improve the waterfront area and trails; traffic and dealing with intersection problems; and improving safety with better lighting, cross-walks and more accessible features, such as wider doorways to fit a wheelchair through.

The public meeting was meant to give Cullen an idea of what his constituents want when it comes time to prepare an application for an infrastructure grant. Prince Rupert was just one of the 10 communities he was visiting. Although less than 15 people from the city came to share their views, it was clear from the discussion that the water supply system is in the most need of federal funds.

On Feb. 12, the federal government announced $9.2 million in funding for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley for projects in the region. The City of Prince Rupert will receive $97,250 for phase one of its asset management plan and the District of Port Edward will receive $60,000 for asset management projects.

 

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