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New contractor working to complete Neskantaga water treatment plant

The chief of Neskantaga First Nation says a new contractor has been secured and is completing work on a long-anticipated water treatment plant for the northwestern Ontario community that is designed to end the country’s longest continuous boil water advisory.

A new contractor is working on completing a long-awaited water treatment plant in Neskantaga First Nation, aimed at lifting Canada’s longest continuous boil water advisory. (Christina Jung/CBC)

The chief of Neskantaga First Nation says a new contractor has been secured and is completing work on a long-anticipated water treatment plant for the northwestern Ontario community that is designed to end the country’s longest continuous boil water advisory.

In February, Neskantaga terminated its contract with previous contractor Kingdom Construction Ltd., and ordered its workers and officials out of the fly-in community, located about 450 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. Chief Chris Moonias told CBC News on Monday that Razar Contracting Services Ltd., based in Selkirk, Man., is now working on the project.

Work on the treatment plant had been beset by numerous delays and equipment failures since Ottawa committed funding in December 2015; federal officials had said the new plant would be completed by May 2018 but that was pushed back to March 2019. When reporters toured the facility in February, around the time the community ordered the former contractor out, the state of the project suggested that deadline was not going to be met.

At the time, former Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias did not publicly blame Kingdom Construction for the delays, saying that the main issue was securing safe, clean drinking water.

Current Chief Chris Moonias, as well as federal officials, said they expect the new plant to be operating sometime in October. Moonias said he couldn’t comment further.

“We do expect that the construction will be completed and the plant commissioned,” said Valerie Gideon, the deputy minister of Indigenous Services Canada, adding that a representative from Ottawa will attend a project management meeting on Tuesday.

“The chief will be in a position to lift the drinking water advisory at that point in time [October].”

Neskantaga heightened its warnings about the local water supply over the weekend, declaring a state of emergency and flying residents out after a pump in the existing system broke down, cutting off running water of any kind to some homes.

Those in houses and other buildings that could still get running water are being warned by community officials not to use it for any purpose other than flushing, as the now-inoperable pump was part of a system that, while not meeting potable water standards for drinking, provided some treatment and disinfection.

Federal and community officials are disputing just how safe the water is with the pump not working.

A replacement pump is scheduled to be installed on Wednesday.

Federal officials said there are still 42 long-term drinking water advisories in northern Ontario First Nations. Neskantaga has been under a boil water advisory for about 25 years.

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