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Feds release $77M to replace Prince Rupert’s ancient water pipes

The investment comes one year after the province put up $65 million for the aging infrastructure
From left to right: Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach, provincial minister of Municipal Affairs Anne Kang, Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond and North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice in Victoria celebrate an announcement that will shape Prince Rupert’s future. On March 7, Prince Rupert received $77.2 million in funding from the federal government through its Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to replace its aging water pipes system. (Contributed/Taylor Bachrach)

It is a day of celebration for the city of Prince Rupert, as it has secured a historic $77.2 million in federal funds to overhaul its sputtering water pipes and sewage infrastructure.

The monumental announcement was made on March 7 in Victoria, with representatives from the municipal, provincial and federal governments attending the funding announcement.

The funding, which came through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), will address about 26 kilometres of water pipes and sewage lines across the city, much of which are over 100 years old, that need mending. The city applied for $82 million of DMAF funding last summer, and had been patiently waiting on the federal government’s decision until today.

Boil water notices and advisories have become commonplace in Prince Rupert in recent years, causing frustration among residents.

The provincial government allocated $65 million towards the city’s water pipes almost a year ago in March 2023, following a winter of serious water main breaks that nearly pushed the city to evacuation. More water main breaks plagued the city in the fall of 2023, almost causing the water reservoir to dry up.

The final bill for the major reconstruction project will cost about $200 million. Along with the combined federal and provincial funds of $142 million, the cash-strapped city will secure $45 million through borrowing.

Hosting the third-largest port in Canada and the closest port in North America to Asian markets, all three governments recognized the importance of the city of Prince Rupert keeping pace with the expected growth of the port.

“This is the story of a really big port in a small city,” said Mayor Herb Pond.

“The challenges of making sure the community scales up to support this incredible, growing port infrastructure… is pretty hard to do if the community doesn’t have water.”

Pond also acknowledged the Prince Rupert Port Authority, which he said has been instrumental in securing funding from both the federal and provincial governments.

“A world-class port needs a world-class port city if we’re going to meet our potential,” said Prince Rupert Port Authority CEO Shaun Stevenson.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice dedicated the announcement to city workers and the long hours they toiled to keep the city from collapsing during the winter 2022 water main breaks.

“I will never forget… our crew missing their turkey dinners with their families to deal with it at a critical emergency of essentially a geyser blowing out of a main water line,” she said.

“The winter of 2022 was just tragic on so many grounds. And so this announcement is for them too.”

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach described Pond as possibly “the happiest mayor in B.C.,” after years of the city lobbying the federal and provincial governments for these significant funds.

Prince Rupert’s previous council was also acknowledged by Pond for their reconstruction of Prince Rupert’s water source, the Woodworth dam, which was in desperate shape before a $23 million makeover.

“The previous Council replaced the water dam, it was well over 100 years old. There’s no point in replacing the water pipes, as we’re doing, if the dam fails,” Pond said.

The revamping of the ancient water pipes and sewer system will include excavating and stabilizing the soil, while PVC pipes will be installed, according to Infrastructure Canada.

“There’s no small community, there’s no small town. Every people, every home needs to have drinking water and we have to ensure that if one person needs it, we have to be there to give it to them,” said federal minister of Tourism Soraya Martinez Ferrada, who was representing Minister of Infrastructure Sean Fraser.

Martinez Ferrada added that Prince Rupert’s current water pipe infrastructure would not withstand a natural disaster, such as an earthquake.

Anne Kang, provincial minister of Municipal Affairs, promised to address the wider issue of aging infrastructure in B.C., which she said is impacting many communities across the province.

“Local governments face more challenges today because much of their infrastructure is outdated,” said Kang.

“I want to say to local governments that we hear you, we’re listening and we’re taking action.” 

Pond has previously said the multi-year renewal of the pipes system will be extremely intrusive for residents, with entire streets expected to be dug up.

Unable to contain his excitement after years of working toward this announcement, Pond exclaimed his gratitude toward Ferrada and the federal government.

“I’ve got 77 million reasons why I think I love you,” the mayor said.

READ MORE: Water quality advisory lifted by city of Prince Rupert on Dec. 18

READ MORE: Prince Rupert still awaiting federal funds after major water main break