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Neskantaga residents will spend at least six weeks in Thunder Bay

Chief Chris Moonias says uprooted people are experiencing personal and social issues
Neskantaga street scene
Roads in Neskantaga are empty now that most residents are living in hotels in Thunder Bay while repairs to the water system continue (Troy Charles/TBTV photo)

THUNDER BAY — It will be at least the end of November before repairs to the water system at Neskantaga First Nation are completed.

By that point, most residents of the remote fly-in community who were flown to Thunder Bay last month will have been out of their homes for about six weeks.

Chief Chris Moonias says Nov. 28 is the latest target date he's been given by the people working on the project.

In an interview Monday, Moonias said the dates keep changing.

"First it was Nov. 6, then it was Nov. 12," he said, adding that living in a hotel room in unfamiliar surroundings for an extended period is having an impact on his people.

"We're starting to run into a lot of personal and social issues. I mean, people are being uprooted. They can't go home."

The chief said some supports are available in Thunder Bay, but it's difficult for residents to cope with being away from Neskantaga for so long.

"I get asked every day" about when we might be able to return, he said.

About 270 people are currently staying in Thunder Bay, leaving only 15 back in the community.

Moonias said many businesses and individuals in the city have stepped up to assist his people during their stay, either with donations or helping to arrange for activities.

He said Thunder Bay Fire Rescue personnel are also providing support daily, and are doing "a good job."

At Neskantaga, a professional project management firm based in Thunder Bay is overseeing the work on the water system.

Chief Moonias said a Manitoba-based consulting engineer and a contractor are also on-site, along with the Ontario Clean Water Agency.  

As much as he'd like to see the work completed as soon as possible, he said it's also essential that the work be done correctly.

The federal government has said it has spent nearly $17 million on a new water treatment plant that was built four years ago.

However, issues remain with the distribution system and a connected wastewater problem.

Neskantaga has been under a boil-water advisory for 25 years.

It was left with no running water at all last month after an oily sheen was discovered floating in a reservoir in the treatment plant, prompting the chief and council to order an emergency evacuation. 

The source of the sheen was subsequently identified as hydrocarbons.

Moonias said Monday the problem has been identified and corrected.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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