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Sask. premier pledges to fix lone road to Cumberland House, despite cutting northern highway budget

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The mayor and councillors of Cumberland House have declared a state of emergency over the poor state of the only road in and out of town — Saskatchewan Highway 123.

Residents of Cumberland House contacted CTV News earlier this month reporting the unpaved portion of Highway 123 was in disrepair and becoming hazardous to travel. Since then, rainy weather has made conditions even worse, and supply trucks are unable to consistently get food, fuel and other supplies into the village.

The Ministry of Highways indicated it had planned to spend $3.3 million this summer on repairs of the road, which locals say is built level with the ditch, making it highly susceptible to flooding.

On Thursday, Premier Scott Moe signaled he would consider a larger investment to fix the issues with Highway 123.

“We’ll work with the community on any immediate challenges that they have and also work with the community on, you know, what the investment looks like for that road in the future, and I would say it needs to be more, not less,” he said Thursday morning at an event in Whitecap Dakota First Nation.

(Courtesy: Aaron Fosseneuve)

Moe said Highway 123 was a “priority conversation” in the Ministry of Highways and he would be meeting with ministry officials to find out what needs to be done to make sure the road is passable in the short term.

Looking forward, the premier indicated it may be time to discuss whether the province is funding highways appropriately.

In the 2024 provincial budget, the Sask. Party cut Ministry of Highways funding for northern infrastructure by nearly $16 million — money that would have gone toward roads like Highway 123. 

“We need to continue to have a conversation around, you know, what is our maintenance funding on those roads? Should it be increased," he said.

“There's more work to do and I think there's more reason for us to continue to look at the level of funding that we have in our highways budget and continue to look at increasing it, not cutting it.”

The Cumberland House Cree Nation is expected to join the village and declare a state of emergency on Friday. 

Since supply trucks have been unable to travel reliably, local grocers have been running out of food. Veronica Favel, deputy mayor of the northern village, said their store is without bread or milk, and they only have about a two weeks supply of fuel on hand.

The grocery store in the Northern Village of Cumberland House is running out of supplies, and many shelves are sitting empty. (Courtesy: Veronica Favel)

An online petition calling on the Ministry of Highways for “immediate action” to secure safe and reliable access to Cumberland House has gathered nearly 1,800 signatures since it was launched one week ago.

The petition, started by Janelle Thomas, says the impassable roadway is putting people’s lives at risk.

“Ambulances cannot make it through the muddy roads, putting our sick and elderly residents at risk of further illness or even death,” the petition says.

“Residents who rely on dialysis up to three times a week must leave the community for care but struggle with unreliable road conditions. This situation is unacceptable for a community with such historical significance.”

Cumberland House is Saskatchewan’s oldest settlement, celebrating its 250th anniversary this year. It’s located about 300 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert.

The village administrator says this tow truck got stuck attempting to pick up a medical truck that died on the highway due to the potholes and ruts. (Courtesy: Village of Cumberland House)

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