Despite provincial travel regulations easing this summer, Tahltan First Nation members at Telegraph Creek are still uncertain about seeing their family members if road repairs are not completed.
It has been seven weeks since work began on Telegraph Creek Road after a heavy snow melt released water from a lake above Hwy 51 and led to a washout on April 14.
After the road was closed for repair work, it opened to light duty vehicles on May 4 and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) stated in a news release that they expected permanent repairs to be completed in the month of May.
However a timeline for re-opening the road to normal traffic is still nowhere in sight for residents of the remote community located in Northern B.C.
Lakes District Maintenance – contracted by MOTI– is working on the road which is partially open to light-duty traffic at specific timings, thrice a day and can be accessible only by four-wheel drives (4×4) with high clearance.
“Although technically it says open, we’re not really open, it’s still unsafe to travel,” said Carmen McPhee, Tahltan Band chief who has not left Telegraph Creek since April.
“You can’t even leave town if you don’t have an SUV,” said McPhee.
Without access or a detour available into the isolated Telegraph Creek community – a small settlement of 250 people – the First Nation has been relying on helicopters to deliver essentials, medical personnel and emergency services.
Since no heavy hauling is allowed on the road, fire trucks can’t come in, nor can transport services like Bandstra that deliver groceries and other commodities to the people in Telegraph Creek, said McPhee.
A significant portion of the road that is open to traffic is covered with over 3000 rig mats– “it’s like driving on a wooden road and hoping you don’t get a flat tire,” said McPhee. Some parts are open only to single-lane traffic.
The drive time from Telegraph Creek to Dease Lake – a 112 km stretch – that normally takes around an hour and a half to get to, is now three and a half hours long.
“I wouldn’t take a pregnant person or an 80-year-old with pneumonia on this road as any interruption can halt traffic and turn it to a dangerous situation with the person being stuck there,” she said.
McPhee said that they still have no “real commitment” from the provincial transportation ministry as to when the work on the road is scheduled to be completed.
When asked about the road reopening, MOTI did not give the Terrace Standard an estimated date.
In an email statement the ministry said that the timeline for re-opening the road remains “weather dependent.”
“Sections of the road remain soft due to rainfall and spring frost thaw. Crews are onsite 24/7 monitoring the site and working to re-open the road to full traffic,” said MOTI in the statement.
The ministry also said that along with the maintenance contractors staff they have been holding daily meetings with Tahltan Nation to “coordinate priorities, provide updates on the road status, and answer questions.”
But despite the “daily meetings,” the Tahltan chief said that she still hasn’t heard anything about how long it’s going to take to fix the road.
“There is still no real deadlines, no set plan to fix the problem and I haven’t heard anybody committing to anything,” she said.
This uncertainty of the timeline is affecting a lot of the Tahltan Nation members, especially those who were looking to come home to their families in Telegraph Creek in the summer as provincial COVID-19 regulations ease, said McPhee.
“Last year nobody came back because of COVID and a lot of our members come back in summer to fish and camp and be with their families…. a lot of that is not going to happen because right now we don’t even have trailer access to the road,” she said.