It may be close to another year before the first connection to potable water is in place on the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve.
“Maybe by Christmas,” Chief Harley Chappell and band councillor Joanne Charles guesstimated Friday of the timeline, during an interview regarding pre-work that began last week for a water/sewer infrastructure project.
And while 10 months may sound like a long stretch to some – especially given that a year ago, there was some belief that a first connection could be made as early as this spring, and that the reserve has been on a boil-water advisory since 2005 – the officials have a different perspective.
“In our history of 10,000 years here… another 10 months is a blink of an eye,” Chappell told Peace Arch News.
Planning, design and more for the infrastructure has been underway “for years.” It took on a particular urgency following the City of White Rock’s August 2016 notice to the band that their water supply would be terminated “within… 18 months.”
Much has happened in the years since, including the SFN learning in June 2017 that their community was to be among 33 to receive federal funding – $338,000 – to assist with water infrastructure, and, early last summer, the signing of “historic” servicing agreements with the City of Surrey for water and sanitary sewer.
More conspicuous signs of progress were noticed last week, when trees alongside Beach Road began to be felled.
PAN reported on the activity after area residents reached out with concerns about “400 plus trees coming down,” with several piles of cut trees visible at the corner of Beach Road and Highway 99.
Chappell – who initially confirmed in a Facebook comment that the felling was pre-work for the infrastructure – told PAN Friday that SFN residents are “well aware” that work towards laying the infrastructure is underway.
Other visible clues Friday afternoon included signage, posted just west of the entrance to Peace Arch Park, indicating Beach Road is closed to all forms of traffic – a move that Charles said was necessitated by pedestrians not being respectful of construction-zone signs – and an SFN member stationed nearby to ensure the notice was taken seriously.
The closure will continue “until further notice,” Charles noted.
As well, many trees alongside the road heading west into the reserve were numbered with red spray paint or marked with ribbon, and, wooden markers topped with pink ribbon dotted a similar path.
Chappell and Charles said they couldn’t confirm if the pink-topped markers denoted the future route of the infrastructure, stating there are still details about the project that they can’t share publicly for fear of jeopardizing the process, as well as answers they don’t yet have themselves.
Even with the progress, there is still much to be done before the infrastructure can be laid, they noted.
Those steps include remediation of Beach Road itself, due to contaminants remaining from the use of oil as a dust suppressant back when the road was a gravel route. That is a process in itself, Chappell said, as the road has never been dug up and “a lot of our history is in that road.”
Chappell said all the steps so far have brought the community the furthest forward it’s ever been.
“I think the exciting piece (is) we can almost see the starting line,” he said.
“(We’re) almost able to start moving our community into today’s day-and-age.
“It’s been a long go, it’s been challenging and there’s lots of good things coming with it.”