Work to install pipes that will connect Semiahmoo First Nation band members to potable water was anticipated to get underway earlier this week.
The $10-million infrastructure project – funded by Indigenous Services Canada – will lay more than two kilometres of pipe, from Highway 99 to the Little Campbell footbridge, for both drinking water and fire-suppression, as well as sanitary sewer.
“We’re going to be drilling under the Little Campbell and connecting into the pumphouse,” Len Lauriente, president of Tybo Contracting, said during a March 8 groundbreaking event celebrating the project’s launch.
It’s hoped the connection can be made by Christmas.
Lauriente was among officials from multiple groups and levels of government to gather on SFN land for the occasion, which Chief Harley Chappell described as “a very momentous, historic day for the Semiahmoo.”
Chappell extended thanks “from my… grandchild; my great, great grandchildren that aren’t here yet,” and spoke to the impact of the work on the generations who “have paved the way.”
Standing next to band member Mabel Charles, Chappell recounted stories the SFN elder told, “of collecting water in a bucket and bringing it back to her home.”
“The stories she’s had, the lifetime she’s had of not being able to do the simple thing of turn on a tap and drink out of that,” Chappell said.
“We’re so ecstatic in the time that we’re able to see this change, for all of our community members.”
Pre-work for the project began in early February, following “years” of planning, design and more. Servicing agreements were signed with the City of Surrey early last summer.
Chappell credited a federal government pledge to end long-term boil-water advisories on public systems on First Nation reserves by March 2021 with much of the recent progress.
“Without (that)… I don’t think Semiahmoo would ever have been on that list,” he told Peace Arch News.
Band councillor Joanne Charles said the SFN has been under an advisory on and off since 1996, and permanently since 2005.
For the advisory to be lifted, all residences on the reserve must be connected, she said.
Chappell said consultation with non-band members who live on-reserve is ongoing, as “they’d have to incur all of their own costs.”
According to the ISC webpage, 59 boil-water advisories remained in effect for First Nation communities as of March 11; that number is projected to drop to 48 by the end of June. Eighty-one have been lifted since November 2015.
The ‘actual/targeted resolution date’ for SFN’s advisory is February 2020, according to the site.
City of White Rock representatives also attended Friday’s groundbreaking.
While the city’s relationship with the Semiahmoo has been contentious in recent years – in particular, after city officials in August 2016 gave the band notice that their water supply would be terminated “within… 18 months” – Chappell and Couns. Helen Fathers and David Chesney told PAN positive strides have been made since the last municipal election.
“Things are very optimistic with the City of White Rock,” said Chappell.
“I think it’s been resolved,” Chesney said.
“I think we’re building a very good foundation for relationships in the future.”