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Saskatchewan's oldest settlement considers declaring state of emergency over crumbling highway

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The mayor of Cumberland House says he’s considering declaring a state of emergency over the deteriorating condition of the only highway in and out of the village.

Saskatchewan Highway 123, the only road in and out of the province’s oldest settlement, has gotten so bad this year that locals say they’re often forced to go through the ditch to avoid getting stuck in the mud.

In the weeks since village officials spoke with CTV News about their concerns, rainfall across the province has just made matters worse, according to Mayor Ferlin McKay.

“It’s showering rain on everything and it’s really damaging our highways,” he told CTV News on Wednesday.

Only trucks with four-wheel drive can get in and out of the community, he said, making it difficult for those who have to travel regularly for medical appointments.

Even a tow truck got stuck this month while trying to pick up a medical truck that died trying to navigate the potholes and ruts, according to the village administrator.

On May 9, the manager of the local gas station said she was unable to get fuel into the community, and they were taking personal vehicles to restock what they could.

McKay says it’s even harder to get fuel and supplies into the village now.

“Even the grocery stores are running out of milk. We’re running out of bread, running out of meat [and] groceries in our community,” he said.

“I talked to the grocery manager, and they might have to start flying in groceries to our community, and it’s going to hurt the community; the high prices the stores are going to be charging.”

McKay says the village council is considering declaring a state of emergency. They’ll make a decision in the next few days after consulting with local Métis and First Nations leadership, he said.

A photo of conditions on Saskatchewan Highway 123, May 2024. (Courtesy: Village of Cumberland House)

Earlier this month, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways acknowledged it had been a “challenging spring thaw” for Cumberland House.

The ministry said it plans to spend about $3.3 million to repair Highway 123 this summer.

According to McKay, their investment does little to offset the high costs Cumberland House residents are bearing to bring goods in and out, and it won’t pay for the damage they sustain to their vehicles from the province’s poorly-maintained infrastructure.

Cumberland House expects to decide if it will declare a state of emergency sometime this week.

As conditions worsen on Highway 123, support for the community is building online.

Last week, Janelle Thomas started an online petition calling on the Ministry of Highways for “immediate action” to improve the highway infrastructure so vehicles can travel safely, any time of year.

“Transport vehicles carrying gasoline, food and other necessities are getting stuck because of freight weight,” Thomas writes in the online petition.

The problem is becoming life-threatening, Thomas says.

“Ambulances cannot make it through the muddy roads, putting our sick and elderly residents at risk of further illness or even death. Residents who rely on dialysis up to three times a week must leave the community for care but struggle with unreliable road conditions.”

Her petition has over 1,600 signatures so far.

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