Mayor offers apology to West Flat residents after water lines frozen during infrastructure project

Nicolle Bouchard speaks to Prince Albert city council during an executive committee meeting on March 22. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert city council voted unanimously to reimburse occupants living in 50 residences in the West Flat for one month of water bills after they were left with multiple water shut offs and a boil water advisory from late October to late November.

Mayor Greg Dionne said he was embarrassed at how residents were treated during the water stoppage, which began while outside contractors finished work on the West Hill Trunk Sewer Main.

Some residents were left without any running water for as much as five days during the boil water advisory. One appeared before council on Monday saying city employees gave her a dirty jug of water when she asked for help.

Dionne offered a personal apology during Monday’s council meeting, and said residents had a right to be upset.

“That jug sitting beside you is an embarrassment to me,” Dionne told the resident. “If it was delivered to my house … I wouldn’t have accepted it.”

“It’s unacceptable,” he added.

Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller, who represents the West Flat, said the water shutoff affected vulnerable residents during a difficult time. She said council had a responsibility to reimburse them for the poor service, while making sure it didn’t happen again.

She also plans to bring forward a motion that would have the City purchase a water truck to make sure shortages like this don’t happen again.

“I’ve been in contact with the 800 block of 18th Street West for quite some time about the situation, and it’s not great,” Miller said during the meeting. “We have young families that were affected greatly by the situation. They had no water, or they were boiling water.”

Local resident Nicolle Bouchard spoke on behalf of those affected by the water shortage at Monday’s meeting. She said some of her elderly neighbours came to her for help after the City failed to provide them with notices saying their water would be shutoff.

While she thanked the City foreman for his help in trying to get water to those residents, she said the experience would never have happened in another area of the City. She added that clean drinking water was a fundamental right during normal times, but even more so during a pandemic.

“The services (the City) gave me and the other residents during that month were not good enough,” she said on Monday.

“We’re simply saying, ‘I pay my taxes. I pay my water bill. You messed up. You didn’t supervise your contractors. We had a month where there was a boil water advisory.’”

Bouchard added that she, like several other residents, only received one water shut off notice. She also said one elderly neighbour went without water from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25 before she asked for assistance.

Prince Albert’s capital projects manager Nykol Miller said poor weather caused difficulties for the contractor, who was unaware water service froze on Nov. 20. The City began providing temporary water supplies when residents started calling in after hours.

The contractor thawed the frozen water service pipes by 3 p.m. the next day, but Miller said there were other shutoffs on Oct. 30 and Nov. 4. Boil water advisories were put in place on Oct. 24 and Oct. 29. They remained in place until Nov. 26.

Miller said residents should have received a notice telling them their water would be shut off. City crews are supposed to drop them off in mailboxes or inside the front door, and check off every address as they’re delivered.

“If there were residents who didn’t receive it, I can’t answer to why they didn’t,” Miller told council. “All of the checked boxes I have on the sheet from the foreman who delivered them indicate that both the notices were delivered, and then the rescind notices were delivered after the project.”

Miller added that some shutdowns are expected when crews begin working on underground infrastructure. She said the City tries to minimize the impact to residents by providing above ground services, but not all disruptions can be prevented.

Miller and a consultant were on site supervising the contractors during the project. She said the problems with the water pipes were unusual for that type of project.

“For the water lines to be frozen, it was an anomaly,” she told council. “I’ve never been (in a situation) where water lines were frozen and the water lines were not ripped out.”

The reimbursements will go out to residents living between the 600 block and 900 block on 18th Street West.

Council also voted to add more fill and gravel to the street on the 900 block of 18th Street West.