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Prince Rupert still awaiting federal funds after major water main break

As threats of evacuation hover over the city, mayor remains hopeful that help is on its way
City employees have been working around the clock to do temporary fixes to the Prince Rupert’s century-old pipes, though Mayor Herb Pond worries the dire situation could be exacerbated this winter. (Seth Forward/The Northern View)

As Prince Rupert’s failing water pipes caused another crisis this week, federal funding continues to stay out of reach for the municipality.

The latest water main break — a break to the pipe’s valve adjacent to the city’s water reservoir — has reinstated a serious boil water notice, after almost two months of a more mild advisory.

The city’s most recent catastrophe, which occurred on the evening Oct. 17, has prompted Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Taylor Bachrach to call on the federal infrastructure department to approve its application for $82 million.

“The situation is dire,” said Bachrach Oct. 19 . “Every day that goes by without federal help is a day the city can’t put shovels in the ground and address this crisis. Federal funding can’t arrive soon enough.”

Tuesday evening was a stark reminder of the disastrous effect the ailing pipes are having on the city of approximately 12,000 residents, according to Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond.

“When I was standing out there in the evening, it was like being in the middle of Armageddon,” he said. “And we came perilously close to being in a place where the reservoir went dry, and that’s an event that of course we fear greatly.”

Until the $82 million is secured, the city cannot do any permanent work on the century-old pipes that keep failing. Work currently being done on the water system by the city is merely a band-aid — and it’s costing the city millions of dollars, with Pond estimating that the ongoing temporary work will put the city between $4 million to $5 million over this year’s annual budget.

According to Pond, fixing the main pipe from the city’s water source to the reservoir is critical to ensuring the city avoids a state of emergency or worse, evacuation.

“That’s the very first area of focus for us, because once that’s renewed, then we can all breathe easy knowing that no matter what happens, there is a secure water supply into the reservoir,” he said.  

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After a state of emergency last December and numerous threats of evacuation, Pond is worried the coming winter months could bring more crises if permanent fixes are not made to the water system.

“We’re really worried about what happens this winter,” he said. “The sooner we get clearance to be able to to do full replacement, the sooner we get to a place where we can breathe a little easier.”

Bachrach said he is hopeful that the funding can be delivered soon, as the federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser has appreciated the dire situation the North Coast city is in.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we’re making progress,” he said. “The minister understands the urgency here and the team at the city have been tireless in their advocacy. We’ll keep pushing until the job is done.”

Pond also said the conversations they have had with the department have been positive.

“We have had great conversations with the minister and his staff,” he said. “They absolutely get the issue and I know they’re working as hard as they can to to get us an answer.”

During question period at the House of Commons on Oct. 19, Fraser’s Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bittle said the department is working on the city’s funding application, though he did not give an exact timeline for when Prince Rupert residents will know if the funding has been secured.

The province has already promised $65 million to the city’s mass repairs, while the municipality has also been hunting down a $42 million loan. The $82 million of federal money will be the last piece of funding the city needs before it can finally get started on permanent fixes to the aging infrastructure, which the city has said will take multiple years to complete.

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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