$2M announced for attack on St. Margarets water woes

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$2M announced for attack on St. Margarets water woes

Infrastructure spending of $2.15 million from the federal Gas Tax Fund was announced for St. Margarets on Monday afternoon in front of dozens of community members.

The project will involve upgrades to the water system, including a new PVC water main, replacement hydrants and repairs to the reservoir in the Northumberland County hamlet.

The local water and waste water commission has been working for years with the provincial government to find a solution to St. Margarets' water woes.

Funding has been difficult to come by since St. Margarets, about 30 kilometres southeast of Miramichi, isn't a designated municipality. The funding comes from the federal government but is distributed by the province.

"I think the meeting we had with them last fall, where they came out to the facility and saw what kind of condition it was in, I think that caused realization that this is a dire issue," said Christian Fletcher, one of two members of the St. Margarets commission.

"The infrastructure, it's aged, deteriorating, and it's extremely old. Money is another issue. Books were not kept quite as well as we'd have liked them to be kept and creditors were left out without being paid. We're trying to get that under wraps and we're hoping this helps."

Former commissions were "less than transparent," according to Fletcher. The current commission's focus is to pay creditors little by little as the infrastructure becomes more cost-effective.

Situation became 'nightmarish'  

Sherry Vallieres, Christian Fletcher's colleague on the commission, moved to the subdivison in St. Margarets in 1994, when the community was founded. The houses on the old military base were advertised as cost-effective — an alternative to more expensive neighbourhoods in nearby municipalities such as Miramichi or Baie-Sainte-Anne.

"We didn't realize at first when we bought our dream that things would get nightmarish. They did, because water was on, water was off, boil order on, boil water off."

Vallieres remembers a six-year boil water advisory, and a long Easter weekend in 2015, when no water came through her tap at all.

"You turn the tap on, and you expect to get some water out," said Vallieres, who volunteers with Fletcher for the commission. "I panic when it doesn't come out!

"I know there are people depending on us."

The community has clean, potable water for now. Since 2015, the commission has helped to improve water quality, but the water is still often coloured. Some community members have had to purchase new bathtubs and toilets because their old bathroom fixtures were stained brown.

Still, residents pay $2.05 a day for water. Rates went up 25 cents in 2016.

'Makeover' to come

Water mains will be replaced underground, but the community's treatment plant will also be renovated.

"It's got an old military, post-apocalyptic look to it," Fletcher said of the building. "The siding's coming off the building. The backup well, which doesn't even work anymore — the door comes right off."

The project also includes the installation of a backup generator in the treatment plant. The old generator was destroyed in the ice storm that ravaged the province in January.

The subdivision's upgrades are expected to take two to three years.