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Atikokan declares state of emergency after Mercury Avenue culvert collapse

Atikokan declares state of emergency, with residents thankful no one was hurt but are asking questions about whether something could have been done.
(Submitted by Atikokan Mayor Rob Ferguson)

ATIKOKAN — The municipality has declared a state of emergency after the Mercury Avenue culvert failure earlier this week.

The municipality announced the declaration on Thursday, following the culvert and road collapse that happened Tuesday afternoon and has also resulted in a town-wide boil water advisory.

“This declaration empowers the municipality to take swift and decisive action to protect public safety and allocate the necessary resources to address the situation,” the announcement stated.

The incident washed out a 15-metre section of the roadway, which also contained a main water line.

“It's a miracle that nobody was hurt,” said Brian Stimson, a resident of Atikokan and former councillor.

That was echoed by Jessica Smith, who lives just outside Atikokan but works in town.

“Everyone is just feeling relieved that no one was hurt,” she said.

Smith said she believes her coworker actually was first one on the scene, just after it happened.

“She called the police and to let them know and waited there till they arrived,” she said, adding her coworker said it had already collapsed by the time she came upon it.

Stimson and Smith are two of many people in the community asking questions about the collapse.

“I think people are just wondering, how did this happen?” Smith said. 

In a conversation on Wednesday, Mayor Rob Ferguson said the town is investigating why the culvert let go sooner than expected. The town planned to replace the culvert in the summer.

Smith is an administrator for a local Facebook discussion group. She said there has been discussion about the state of the culvert for the past year, including pictures posted showing change.

“This was last summer and then you kind of knew about it, but was there a change between then and, and now. In the last few days, it became more pronounced,” she said.

“People were definitely commenting that the dip had gotten deeper in the last few days. Someone commented [Wednesday] morning, they noticed that the dip was a lot deeper and this was before the collapse.”

She said people are not experts, which is why they need the answers from people who are qualified.

“It's easy, especially on Facebook, for everyone to be an armchair engineer or politician. But people are questioning and there is a bit of anger.” she said. “You know, people are definitely looking critically at the township council right now and I don't know whether or not that's justified.”

Smith said she would like to know how it was determined that it was safe or permissible to hold off the repair until July.

“Who was it [that] assessed to be safe and who gave that opinion because it obviously wasn't safe,” she said. “I can't help but think how it could have so easily been a lot more disastrous. An hour before, the school buses were going on there.”

Stimson, who questioned why the road hadn't been already closed, said the culvert should have been replaced last year.

“It was in the plan to do last year,” he said, but there was concern about tax levy increase would be too much. 

“You got to keep the tax base down because people are complaining that taxes are too high. I'm kind of sorry, you know, I feel bad actually,” he said. “I was on council at the time when we allowed that to happen.”

He said when making budget deliberations, there is a back and forth between council and administration to see how they can make it work. In the end, council voted for a budget that deferred the work on the culvert for a year.

“[Administration does] a lot for the town and I hate to see them get tagged with it when all they were doing was trying to appease the people of town. I don't think in the back of their mind they were saying hopefully this thing doesn't collapse before we fix it,” he said. “I think they actually thought that it would last and they could get it done.”

Stimson said everyone on council and administration tries to do the best for the town.

“I'm taking flak for it and I'll accept it because I was on the [public works] committee and I was on council at the time,” he said. “But, thank God that nothing happened.”

Dougall Media has requested comment from the municipality.


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