Saturday, December 17, 2022

Sixteen minute Special Council Session charts situation facing City's water supply and offers information for the public on what's ahead

Work on civic water infrastructure in the Crestview area is just
one of a growing list of trouble spots for City workers that
led to a Local State of Emergency in Prince Rupert today

As we outlined earlier this evening, the City of Prince Rupert has Declared a State of Local Emergency, the unusual step an indication of the serious of the situation was taken by City Council by way of a Special City Council Session called shortly after 4 PM on Saturday afternoon.

In the Sixteen minutes of discussion and decision making, the  full contingent of six City Councillors and Mayor Herb Pond heard from City Manager Dr. Robert Buchan about the concerning situation that has evolved for the water supply system over the last 24 hours.  

As well as to what could be even more challenging in the days to come as the temperatures drop, that with an Arctic Outflow Warning currently in place for the City,

Dr. Buchan provided for the background to the current challenges on the city's water infrastructure.

Approximately five years ago we were experiencing around five, maybe four water main breaks a year, and last year we had the most ever with twelve, to date as of today we are at 21.

In the last seven days we've had six water main breaks and a number of water service breaks, three of those six water main breaks occurred since 1:30 last night. 

Today, we had over half of our public works crew out responding to the various water main breaks and water service breaks.

It's a significant cost, it's an extraordinary cost and more-over it requires a significant amount of effort and time from our crews and given the freezing temperatures and increasingly colder temperatures that are forecast during this next six days, the risk of additional breaks is significant and there is potential that there could be too many for our crews to handle. 

So we think that we need to deal with bringing in additional resources and we are arranging those resources.

There may be a call for assistance from the province and frankly the State of Local Emergency can help us recover at the discretion of the province, some of the costs associated with these extraordinary expenses ...  Given ... the challenges to the water system we have recommended that a local State of Emergency be declared" -- City Manager Rob Buchan

City Manager Rob Buchan (far right of screen) carried the vast majority
of Saturday's Special Council Session to put in place a Local State of Emergency  

Mayor Herb Pond had a few follow up questions for the City Manager, asking for an explanation between the two elements of concern those of a water main and a water service break.

Speaking of the concern over the troubles for the water main service Dr. Buchan observed:

"The water service break is the direct service to each building, the water main. That's the main arteries of the water system, that's where the diameter of the pipe and the quantity of the flow is the greatest, you get a break in the main that's where you lose the most water. 

And what's really critical when there's a break is that it's dealt with prior to the water reservoir running dry. 

If a water reservoir were to run dry that would create additional significant complications" -- City Manager Rob Buchan 

The City Manager then outlined what Council needed to consider on the evening towards informing the public of the situation. 

Mayor Herb Pond noted of the call for a State of Local Emergency and how that may be received by the community.

"So the second question is, You know people hear State of Emergency you know it might cause some panic, how would you respond to that?"-- Mayor Herb Pond

Dr, Buchan observed on how the declaration is a way to prepare the community should the situation continue to escalate.

"I would say that right now crews have been and are responding to the breaks, this is very much about being prepared in the event that the deep cold temperatures that we're looking at further escalate the breaks, we want to be prepared for that. 

So this is preparatory, this is making sure that we can keep our water system intact until such time as we can secure the funding that we very much need from the provincial and federal governments to do replacements of those sections of the system, you. know as quickly as we can" -- City Manager Rob Buchan

The Mayor observed as to the need to quickly call the meeting and had the City Manager outline the process required to hold such Short notice sessions.

In comments from Council towards the current situation, Councillor Randhawa asked whether there was any risk of people losing the water supply at this moment.

In reply the City Manager observed that the crews are responding and continue to respond to the breaks as they occur, noting of the need to be prepared for what could come in the week ahead.

"The reason for this declaration is that there is a risk and we want to make sure the we can bring in additional resources, in order to respond to make sure that we actually don't lose the water service. 

This is our due diligence to the community in making sure that we can respond appropriately and effectively and try to secure some financial assistance after" -- City Manager Rob Buchan

Councillor Nick Adey spoke to the concerns over a potential panic and the need to coordinate with local grocery stores and other suppliers of bottled water.

"I don't want to do anything to accelerate any, you used the word panic, I don't want to accelerate any panic cause I'm note sure we're at that point yet.  

But I can anticipate that people might reasonably conclude that it would be a good idea to get some bottled water on hand at home and so on.

During similar circumstances historically we've worked with the local grocery stores to see if there is a way to manage that in a way that was as least disruptive as possible, I'm just wondering if that's a part of this how might go" -- Councillor Nick Adey

The Mayor noted that it was a wonderful suggestion, noting that Dr Buchan was taking notes.

Mr. Pond also offered up some other suggestions for the public.

"Just on a purely practical level, I think it is wise that people you know put a pitcher of water in the fridge now or get some bottled water. Or you know do some things to be prepared. 

But the other thing that people can do very practically which isn't directly related to this but we know it's going to be super cold temperatures, leave a tap somewhere running just a little bit and so that your pipes freezing don't become yet another  reason for the City Crews to have to come and turn off the water, while your plumber does ...  you know resources will be stretched, don't become part of the problem,  I think I would say." -- Mayor Herb Pond

Councillor Cunningham took up the theme of the work ahead for City Workers, paying tribute to the work that they do on a daily basis and in particular towards what they will face in the days and possible weeks ahead.

"I just like to say on the other side of the coin, I would like to recognize that the crews are going to be working possibly through Christmas, you know the sacrifices that they are making, we see them out every day in the crappiest weather and that working. 

But this brings it home that these City workers are going to be out there ... so I just like to point that out.  That these guys don't get the recognition sometimes that they should because this is going to be a tough time of the year for them to have to go out to work, they've been out there since 1:30 this morning"   -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

Councillor Adey also spoke to the challenges for the city workers and the need for assistance for the City work force.

"Clearly the issues are reaching a point were the city workers are close to the overwhelmed point, I would assume that where part of what we are trying to do here is figure out a way to make sure that we get then some help so we can meet the immediate needs" -- Councillor Nick Adey

The City Manager noted of the professional and capable job in response to date, but did note of his concerns for the week ahead.

"You can imagine that if this continues on, with many breaks every day for the next six days that the prospect of being overwhelmed would be very real.  So that's why we're arranging for back up and that's the reason for the State of Local Emergency Declaration"  -- City Manager Rob Buchan

Councillor Cunningham turned to the current financial issues facing the city that has the community in its current situation

"Just revert back to funding you know it's a multi facet statement, but in the end of the day it's we just don't have enough money  to go around to do all of this and this is why were looking at different aspects of getting more money"  -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

That made for the final comment to the discussion, with Councillors Niesh, Skelton-Morven and Forster not offering any thoughts to the situation up for review.

For the record the official declaration to put the community into a Local State of Emergency came at 4:21 PM with the vote of approval on the motion by City Council.

Mayor Pond then outlined the scope of the statement and the approach the city would take in addressing any upcoming concerns, as well as how they would be notifying the public. 

Council discussed a few of the minute details related to releasing that information.

You can review the full sixteen minute  session from the City's Video Archive below: 

Note that the first three minutes are audio only owing to technical issues.

Mayor Herb Pond followed up on the Council session with a short post to his Social Media stream on Saturday evening.

Click to enlarge

More notes related to the City's ongoing infrastructure issues can be reviewed here.

A wider overview of past Council Discussion themes is available here.

We have created an archive to follow the ongoing challenges and areas of concern for the City. As well as to note of any media coverage to the Local State of Emergency.


  1. This was forecastable. The city patches a pipe leaves a bit later and down the road the pipe breaks and they patch it. McBride is a perfect example. There are still parts of the old line on McBride with no plan to fix them. Wait till they burst.
    It is time for the city to question everything the city does in the way of planning. Councilors will you finally step up.
    Excerpts from news release:
    “News Release
    Wednesday, March 27, 2019 11:15 AM

    Local governments may use the grant to meet an immediate infrastructure need for their community, save it for a future opportunity, or leverage it to secure other sources of funding, including borrowing, reserves and other grant programs, to cover major infrastructure and long-term planning initiatives.
    The release of funds to local governments follows the announcement of the Northern Capital and Planning Grant by Premier John Horgan and Robinson on Feb. 16, 2019.
     Prince Rupert: $8,121,000”

    And from The Toronto Star September 20th 2021, rather than use this on worthy projects the council voted for:
    “The old train station will be renovated by the city at a cost of $4 million which is being paid for through the Northern Capital and Planning Grant Reserve. The grants were provided to the city by the Province…………………………
    Construction is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2022.

    I think it is closer to 5.5 to 6 million right now. That money might have been better spent.

  2. Feel free to add to the list. Possible savings the city could have made.
    -Now that the port heavy traffic is gone from the city was it necessary to widen the road at Ocean Center?
    -If finances are so bad did the recycle collection program have to go forward. This required another 4 employees and another garbage truck. What an extra 500 plus a year plus capital costs
    -The Canfisco warehouse commitment, what is the real cost to the taxpayer.
    -Don't forget the $105.000 logo change.
    -Leasing McCarthy Motors another one I can't wrap my head around this one
    -More staff at city hall to plan for the future. Dude we can't pay for your plans, we can't fix what we have.
    -Angle parking planning in the works. We have no money put it on a shelf.
    -Wheelhouse Pub/ CN building. Why never explained and very expensive. That money would have paid a lot of money towards waterline repair.
    -Watson Island not a clue but will almost guarantee a lot of money going into a pit.

    Did I miss something

    1. You forgot "Eat Street"

    2. You missed a lot of things actually:

      ocean centre is paid for by the Province, not the City.

      You want to continue living as a luddite without curbside recycling? you want to spend another 25+ million in 20 more years to build another landfill cell?

      would you prefer Macathry location or risk an inevitable massive health and safety liability with the current location? (I just hiked Mt Hays last week and saw the wattage facility)

      Wheelhouse / CN station is again paid by Province thanks to a grant. Waterfront not a priority for you?

      the so-called logo change was actually the doing away with a century old symbol of colonialism and a step forward towards recocnicilation with the 40% of this city's Indigenous population... obviously not a priority to you either.

      Watson Islandhas made the city millions of dollars now thanks to Pembina and whoever that industrial camp provider is. your preference would be to sell it at a loss like the crew tried before lee brain?

    3. I missed something ... Eat Street. Also a meh.

  3. This is from a late November 2021 budget consideration for this year. The one thing noticeable in the proposal is lack of capital works on waterline repair. This has gone on for 8 years.

    " look at the four page list as Council prepares to head into their Monday evening session, shows some familiar items of the past among the entries from two lists for Council to consider.

    Appendix 1

    1. Watson Island Business Development
    2. Recycling program
    3. Water Treatment Plant
    4. Landfill Cell
    5. Ferry relocation
    6. VIA/CN Station renovation
    7. RCMP Detachment replacement
    8. Asset Management strategy development
    9. Woodworth Dam
    10. City Branding project

    Appendix 2

    1. Watson Island Business Development
    2. Recycling program
    3. Landfill Cell
    4. VIA/CN Station renovation
    5. Woodworth Dam
    6. City Branding project
    7. Canfisco Warehouse leasing
    8. Ferry funding project
    9. Seal Cove Park
    10. Encourage/Facilitate Gateway Development

    The full list can be explored from the Agenda package for tonight's session.

    I am not making this stuff up as the city crumbles council is very pleased with themselves on completing the "City Branding Project.

    1. Where was all this commentary at the 3x per year budget hearings for the last 8+ years? That's about 24 times where only Larry Golden went on record while this anonymous peanut gallery continues to complain into the void!

    2. so I take it you are not in favour of recognizing the majority Indigenous population of the area? Or not in favour of using a local Tsimshian artist? Or just not in favour of paying said artist? Or not in favour of any of it, which really just means you're in favour of perpetuating "with net and pick by rail and ship we win our wealth" (ie. we'll steal your land, your waters, your fish and make ourselves rich at your expense)

    3. 1. Watson Island - gotta spend money to make money.

      2. Recycling - protect the environment and save future landfill costs, great idea.

      3. Landfill - I like having somewhere that everyone can throw their garbage rather than having it pile up in the streets

      3A. Water Treatment - paid for by the Province, not the City. I like having clean drinking water, thanks.

      4. CN Station - I like when my city gets grants and partners with First Nations to revitalize the waterfront

      5. Woodworth Dam - I quite like having drinking water come out of my tap, water to flush my toilets, and having a daily shower

      6. New Branding - glad we have done away with an unrepresentative symbol of a time where resource extraction was the be-all and end-all. The more inclusive the better!

      7. Canfisco - meh.

      7A. RCMP Station - 10+ years of inaction. avoided having the RCMP built it themselves and bill taxpayers tens of millions like what happened in PG. What's not to like? (also, legally required)

      8. Airport Ferry /relocation - "the hardest airport to access in the industrialized world"... requires some improvement to attract investment.

      8A. Asset Management strategy - tough to complain about this one given the nature of your actual complaint being about crumbling city infrastructure

      9. Seal Cove Park - paid for by the Port, not the City, courtesy of the habitat compensation from expanding the container terminal.

      10. Gateway - am I the only one pumped up to see the old plywood DQ get taken down? Think of the possibilities there!

  4. Rather than cast blame all of us need to step up and get involved. City council needs to know we’re interested in what city staff do, we care about city government. Elected leaders need to know that if they push staff to shift course that residents will be engaged and will support pushes for accountability and transparency. We are in this together. We must work as a whole community to get our city government on track and focused on delivering results for basic city services.

  5. This reader applauds city hall and council for calling a SOE.

    Our community is playing defense. We have limited resources, labour, and funding.

    Infrastructure wise, it is whack a mole.

    The SOE will allow our community access to additional resources and funding to get us through the short term.

    1. Really? It’s that simple? Ignore the problem for years, let it all fall apart, declare an emergency, and get special funding that no other cities have access to? If this is such a great plan, then why aren’t all other cities using the same strategy?

      The state of emergency only points out the mess we are in. Now we need to do the work we put off and actually solve it together.

    2. At this point in time, the right now, meaning this cold snap yes it is that simple.

      The cupboards are bare, there are no savings, no reserves. Some infrastructure is over 100 years old.

      Our city has been run poorly for generations. Previous administrations have ignored the basics for far too long.

      To the sixty eight percent of voters who ghosted the ballot box last election. You too, are part of the problem.

      Answer this question about civic strategy, if owning a phone company is such great idea. Why doesn't Terrace have one?

      We continue to brag about our phone company and collect oversized cheques that simply service debt.

      Meanwhile Terrace has 26$ million in civic contingencies to deal with issues like frozen pipes instead of calling an SOE like Prince Rupert.