Flooded farmers receive no response from ministry

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Tom Summer Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News
The Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) supports the creation of original civic journalism. Tom Summer works under the Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John. The content that is produced will be made available to media organizations through a Creative Commons license so that Canadians can be better informed.

Farmers in Taylor say their fields continue to be impacted by unfinished work and poor drainage from the South Taylor Hill, and they aren’t getting any response from the Ministry of Transportation on the matter. 

Ages 61 and 63, Sharleen Westgate and her husband Lee have farmed 240 acres in the district for more than 20 years. Due to the position of drainage tunnels, water from the recent heavy rains has carved up and flooded one of their canola fields.

“We’ve been working with the ministry for quite a few years on the drainage. They stopped halfway through the job, so the drainage hasn’t been fixed,” said Sharleen Westgate, who says she has not received a response from the ministry about the recent flooding. 

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“We haven’t heard from them, at least not this year.”

Only one field was flooded during the recent extreme rainfall, wiping out a large amount canola. Westgate says her husband has built a drainage ditch in the meantime to keep the water away from the others.

“It’s going to chop up his field when he harvests it,” Westgate said. “When it gets that deep of a trench, you can’t drive your equipment through it.”

Construction on the hill stopped over two years ago, due to a lack of funding by the province. Despite the setback, the couple is asking the ministry to install adequate drainage.

“All we want is the water routed properly. We’ll just have to eat the loss,” said Westgate, who expects that seeking compensation for lost crops would also be a challenge.

A ministry spokesperson said drainage from the hill has been an ongoing challenge. Slope stablization works continue.

“Staff have been working with all stakeholders along the hill, including the Westgates, and where possible, we are working to incorporate improvements to drainage concurrently with the operational improvements along the hill,” the spokesperson said.

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The province has hired Greenfield Construction of New Brunswick to as part of a pilot project to stabilize the South Taylor Hill. Work includes excavations, drainage improvements, and embedding soil anchors into the slope next to the Alaska Highway.

The ministry says this will help prepare the highway for future expansions.

The lower portion of the South Taylor Hill was four-laned in 2016, and which has been prone to slipping.

The ministry has yet to award a contract to four lane the upper section of the hill. The cost to complete that work is rising, officials have said.

Email reporter Tom Summer at [email protected].

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