The opening of a highway expansion project south of Williams Lake was celebrated.
Standing outside the entrance of Coyote Rock Estates to celebrate the four laning of Highway 97 Tuesday morning were members of the Williams Lake Indian Band (WLIB) who were joined by representatives of Cantex Okanagan Construction Ltd, the provincial government, and the City of Williams Lake.
“When we started this in 2016 the impact that it was going to have to our community we weren’t sure what kind of impact it was going to be,” Chief Willie Sellars said.
“Standing here now in 2019, opening it up in such a good way with such a prestigious Elder, we can look back and see just how much of an impact it had in the community, not just the Williams Lake Indian Band but also the City of Williams Lake and the Cariboo Regional District.”
Sellars said some of the line items he looks at right away are two-million in wages to band members, a gateway to the City of Williams Lake, and the opening of their frontage road that is allowing them to move into economic development initiatives with their golf course and residential and commercial development.
“As we build it out it’s going to be something special and it’s the future of the Williams Lake Indian Band,” he said.
“We were able to do that in injunction with our partners Lake Excavating Ltd., with the Ministry of Transportation, with the numerous others that stepped up and have contributed to the success of our development, the success of this project. It’s put us on the map; it’s allowed us to blaze a trail, and lead by example of other First Nation communities on what a successful economic development project can do for those communities.”
Adding that mother nature threw a wringer with wildfires and flooding Sellars added they are very excited to be able to open up the project.
“Definitely hats off to Cantex for getting it done because it’s a gorgeous highway.”
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said there were lots of negotiations between the band and province that all worked out.
“What a great project and I’m so thankful that this opportunity is here for the Band,” she said.
“The Ministry staff, the project coordinator, you did a great job; the work that you had to do, the extra hours you had to spend on this particular project because of the hurdles and the obstacles, you never gave up, and Cantex I have to say your staff was amazing. To the flaggers from the Band, they were amazing; they were friendly, they smiled. And to Lake Excavating and their crew for the partnership and the training that you gave to the WLIB so that people could work and help them move forward, thank you.”
Representing the City of Williams Lake as acting mayor, Councillor Scott Nelson said the project lays out the foundation for future economic development.
“When you drive up here, you’ve got the golf course, you’ve got new development occurring here. This is great for Williams Lake, this is great for the Williams Lake Indian Band, and you know what it’s only going to get better.”
Before the ribbon-cutting, Regional Manager of Indigenous Relations with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), Dawn Drummond said over six kilometers of four laning has been added to the Highway 97 corridor along with intersection improvements that significantly enhance safety and ability along the corridor.
“While this important project took a little longer than we had hoped or expected, I think when we look at the end after getting through the wildfires and the floods and all of the events, the finished project was well worth the wait.”
MOTI Deputy Director of the Southern Interior Regional Office, Paula Cousins said she appreciated the strong relationship based on respect and trust that they built with the WLIB over the last number of years.
“I appreciate all the negotiations that we did at the table and I also appreciate that you pushed us outside of our boundary. You told us we need to think outside of the box, we need to do something different for procurement and that’s exactly what we did,” Cousins said.
“What we did with WLIB was unique-it was our first pilot in the province but that also took a contractor that was really open to go above and beyond what we put in that contract as well. So the success with the WLIB and Cantex really taking on this language it really paid off in the end for making those opportunities available.”