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Raw sewage problem plagues Hazelton’s Upper Skeena Recreation Centre

Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine says it is a complicated situation they are committed to fixing
The Regional District of Kitimat Stikine is grappling with a sewage problem at the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre. (Thom Barker photo)

When the $22 million Upper Skeena Recreation Centre (USRC) officially opened to great fanfare in September 2019 it was heralded as a massive boon to the Hazeltons.

And it has been a welcome and well-used addition to the area including as the home of the new Central Interior Hockey League team the Hazelton Wolverines, who made it all the way to the playoffs this year.

But nearly three-and-a-half years later, it is still not nearly living up to its potential and may even present a public health hazard according to Willie Blackwater, chair of the Gitxsan Huwilp Government Oversight and Review Committee (GORC).

In a letter to Black Press Media Blackwater outlines a sewage problem he said has plagued the centre since its opening.

“Staff are currently forced to remove the sewage by hand with a pressure washer provided as a short-term solution for six months by RDKS (Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine),” he wrote on behalf of the committee.

He also said the state-of-the-art kitchen has never opened because of the potential public health hazard of raw sewage in the building.

“The kitchen was designed as a community service program and was projected to be a revenue-generating initiative but has been at a standstill for the last 2.5 years,” the letter stated.

READ MORE: Upper Skeena Recreation Centre officially opens

He said the problem is made worse, though, because the regional district doesn’t appear to want to do anything about it.

“After several failed attempts for a resolution, we have been met with stonewall responses and repudiation,” he wrote.

“As a First Nation community in a remote area, our challenges are different than higher traffic areas like Terrace and Kitimat and we need RDKS to represent our needs fairly.”

There’s also a personal side to it, Blackwater said.

“I have two granddaughters, one’s 13, the other one’s five, they both play hockey,” he explained. “I’m quite saddened and devastated to bring them to this ice arena because we have no other ice arena and put their health at risk.”

The RDKS, however, says it is a complicated matter and they have been working on and are committed to finding a solution, something that has been communicated in detail to the Gitxsan leadership.

In a letter to Brian Williams, chair of the Gitxsan Huwilp Government, dated Feb. 10, 2023, Phil Germuth, RDKS chair, outlined the history of the sewage problem and where the regional district is in attempting to resolve it.

It was first identified in February 2020. At that time the regional district engaged McElhanny Engineering to determine if it was a one-time problem or a re-occurring issue.

The firm concluded it was re-occurring and was contracted to do a detailed assessment. The following spring (2021), McEhanney concluded the problem was due to settlement of the sewer line in the footprint of the building.

That summer a French drain was installed on the east side of the building and in the fall further investigation ensued using cameras and ground penetration radar (GPR).

A follow-up report in 2022 by Bulkley Valley Engineering Services on the GPR work was inconclusive and subsequent core samples did not back up what was seen by radar.

That combined with a “lack of proper as-built drawings” — a set of drawings that shows discrepancies between original design plans and how the facility was actually constructed — left the RDKS board uncertain as to the root cause of the problem and, therefore, whether any proposed solution would be successful.

At that time, the board agreed to undertake a more formal risk-based options analysis, as well as possibly pursue legal action. The regional district would not say against whom they are considering taking legal action, but believe it could be a “prolonged endeavour.”

Black Press Media reached out to the original contractor, Yellowridge Construction via phone and email, but did not receive a response as of press time.

Pending the anticipated prolonged legal proceedings, the regional district engaged another contractor to do the risk-based, in-depth options analysis, which they expect to be concluded in April.

“Depending on the scope of the repair selected and the associated risks it will dictate the timeline for the detailed design of the repair,” Germuth said.

“However, the RDKS is optimistic that a detailed design will be completed before end of Summer of 2023. The repair timeline will be dependent on the lead time of materials and availability of contractors.”

Germuth said the safe, efficient, and cost-effective operations of the USRC is a priority for the RDKS Board.

“We intend to continue to pursue a solution to this issue in a cost-effective and timely manner,” he concluded.

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Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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