by Phil Ambroziak

Travellers to and from Canoe Lake Cree First Nation these days need just that – a canoe.

Highway 903 at Devil’s Creek is currently closed after heavy rains this past week caused the water to rise to unprecedented levels and the road to be completely washed out.

“Where the highway washed away there’s now about a 30 or 40-foot drop – we’ve never seen anything like that happen, at least not in recent history,” explained Canoe Lake chief Francis Iron. “This has a huge impact on our community because Highway 903 is our main access road in and out. Now, if we need to leave Canoe Lake, we have to go around through the Beauval way. But, we also have cabins on the other side and we no longer have easy access to places like Meadow Lake or even Waterhen Lake First Nation where we often go to attend sweats and other gatherings. This is huge.”

What’s most concerning to Iron, however, is how much more time it will take for Canoe Lake residents to access Meadow Lake or other larger centres in the case of a medical emergency.

Other nearby communities afected in the same manner include the hamlets of Jans Bay and Cole Bay which have populations of about 180 and 230 respectively.

The washout has also slowed operations at the local mills, as well as Mistik Management Ltd. which harvests logs from the surrounding area.

“This will definitely have an impact on our harvesting operations,” noted Mistik GM Robert Follett. “We currently have operations just north of there, but in total four of our operations – Keeley Crossing, Lucky Lake, Hay Creek and Beauval Pastures – will be affected. NorSask Forest Products had already planned a two-week shutdown because of the increased rainfall we’ve been having and the impact that has already had on harvest operations, but this washout has now caused us to adjust our plans on the fly because we can no longer haul any logs from these locations.”

The Hay Creek operation west of Highway 903 – which supplies logs for the local pulp mill – was impacted when a bridge in that area was also washed out recently, while Follett said the option of hauling logs the long way via Highway 155 is not feasible because of added costs.

“We could take Highway 155, but it’s certainly a longer route and there are also secondary weight restrictions in place for that road which would lead to increased expenses,” he said. “That makes this option prohibitive.”

Follett also said, according to talks he’s had with the Ministry of Highways, more than five inches of rain fell on the area in a short period of time, causing water levels in the creek to rise.

“This caused beaver dams to become overwhelmed and to fail, creating a domino effect and essentially turning the creek into a river,” he said. “Culverts also became clogged with debris from the dams and just couldn’t keep up with the amount of water flowing through.”

This was confirmed by Steve Shaheen of the provincial Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure’s communications branch.

“Currently we have barricades up and detours in place,” Shaheen said. “People heading to and from the north can use Highways 965 and 155. After receiving five inches or more of rainfall, our crews noticed the water in the creek was starting to rise. They monitored the situation throughout the weekend and noticed it was starting to get close to the road. By Wednesday the culvert let loose and the highway was washed away.”

See next week’s (Aug. 8) edition of Northern Pride for an update to this story.

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