Prince Al­bert coun­cil­lor pushes for per­ma­nent evac­uee in­fra­struc­ture

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CITY + REGION - MOR­GAN MODJESKI mmod­jeski@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/Mor­ganM_SP

A Prince Al­bert city coun­cil­lor says while his mo­tion to have per­ma­nent in­fra­struc­ture in place to sup­port north­ern evac­uees was de­feated at a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing, it’s not dead.

This year, more than 2,000 peo­ple were evac­u­ated from north­ern com­mu­ni­ties as a re­sult of wild­fires in the prov­ince. Evac­uees were dis­trib­uted across sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing Prince Al­bert.

Then, in mid-Septem­ber, govern­ment of­fi­cials started ask­ing evac­uees in Prince Al­bert to re­lo­cate to Saska­toon, as a large con­cen­tra­tion in the area was putting stress on ev­ery­thing from Prince Al­bert’s health sys­tem to area ho­tels.

In his mo­tion, Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha noted wild­fires are hap­pen­ing in Saskatchewan an­nu­ally and changes in weather pat­terns due to cli­mate change caus­ing flash flood­ing “will con­tinue to dis­place com­mu­ni­ties, cre­at­ing more waves of evac­uees in years to come.”

The mo­tion sug­gested the Red Cross man­age the fa­cil­i­ties, but Botha said any or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­vid­ing emer­gency re­sponse in the area would be wel­come to use the fa­cil­i­ties. He said Prince Al­bert is a “front­line” com­mu­nity when it comes to sup­port­ing evac­uees from Saskatchewan’s north, Man­i­toba, Al­berta and the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries.

Botha said although the mo­tion was de­feated, he plans to con­tinue his push for per­ma­nent fa­cil­i­ties in the fu­ture, be­cause it would re­duce strain on the com­mu­nity and im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for evac­uees, who are some­times asked to stay in ho­tels or school gym­na­si­ums.

He said a per­ma­nent fa­cil­ity would pro­vide evac­uees with “a place where they can be com­fort­able, where they can re­group and be to­gether as a fam­ily unit.”

Ward 7 Coun. Den­nis Nowosel­sky said he voted against the mo­tion be­cause he feels Prince Al­bert has more press­ing is­sues to deal with, like re­place­ment of the city’s wa­ter­lines.

It wouldn’t make sense to pur­chase or con­struct such fa­cil­i­ties when there’s a risk they may stand empty when they’re not in use by evac­uees, he said.

Call­ing the mo­tion a “pie in the sky” idea, Nowosel­sky noted the pro­vin­cial govern­ment has al­ready re­moved mil­lions in fund­ing for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in this year’s bud­get.

“Your water and sewer ser­vices are ba­sic ser­vices to the city; we’re in a big bind there and we’re in a big bind in other ar­eas. It’s just so un­re­al­is­tic,” Nowosel­sky said of the mo­tion.

In a state­ment, the Cana­dian Red Cross said when­ever a com­mu­nity is evac­u­ated, it works closely with the prov­ince and the af­fected com­mu­nity to de­ter­mine where evac­uees should be placed, not­ing it “ap­plauds” Prince Al­bert’s ef­forts to be pre­pared for an emer­gency and looks for­ward to re­view­ing any fu­ture pro­pos­als.

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