A small cellular-services tower in Hall Lake has finally become a reality for a Lac La Ronge Indian Band community that has long suffered from communications problems during emergency situations.
SaskTel began work on the tower last year and completed the project on November 2.
“We lobbied both levels of government for funding but were unable to gain support for the project,” Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said.
“In the past, it was challenging for the community, especially during times of emergencies such as the recent four-day power outage and forest fires in 2015.”
The lack of cellular coverage complicated things in Hall Lake recently during a power outage in May caused by wildfires near Prince Albert. That’s because SaskPower relies on customers to call in outages as they happen.
Hall Lake was unable to communicate an outage and councillor Norman Ross was only able to get in touch with Cook-Searson using a cell phone booster in his vehicle the next morning.
“We didn’t realize that the power went off in Hall Lake after a couple of hours,” Cook-Searson said at the time.
SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry said the company made grid improvements in the north a priority over the summer.
He said part of SaskPower’s grid modernization plan is building a “smart grid” so that they can know when the power is out in places like Hall Lake.
“A lot of our customers in the north are only served by one transmission line… We have a few transmission lines that go up the main corridor toward the north. So, if the line goes down the community has to stay off until the line’s repaired,” Cherry said.
“We’re certainly exploring options to modernize and reinforce the northern grid so we can minimize some of these events. So, we’re going to be looking at a variety of options over the course of this year.”
Cook-Searson expects that more reliable cellular service will improve access to emergency services, education, safety and security in the community.
She said the Band Council worked together with councillor Norman Ross to build the cellular tower taking into account community safety and traffic on Highway 165.
“The new cellular tower will help in security for the residents, economic growth and community development,” Cook-Searson said.
“Remote learning and virtual classes have become part of the new norm of learning during COVID-19, (and) the cellular tower in Hall Lake will surely help.”