A meeting held by the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure had many residents of Balgonie hot tempered on Wednesday night.
“We’re going to fight this till the very end,” said Jesse Edwards, who’s co-leading the Facebook group called Save Balgonie’s Main Street Access (Right In, Right Out).
The Facebook group of close to 1,000 members is frustrated with the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure’s decision to close off the intersection of Main Street and Highway 1 west permanently.
— Jessika Guse (@JessikaGuse) September 21, 2017
Deputy Minister Fred Antunes was present to hear what more than 200 people who packed into the church had to say.
Some people shouted from their seats while others used the five mics available.
Michael Lapchuk, a 10 year volunteer fire fighter in Balgonie, was the fifth person to voice his concerns; however he said he felt as if no one was listening prior to him taking the mic.
“I was standing beside a couple of the (government) representatives and they were standing there, texting on their phones,” Lapchuk said. “Head down and it wasn’t until the deputy minister called them over, that they came over and provided any input.”
Lapchuk added the size of the crowd at the church should be a huge indicator as to how alarmed people are by the road being closed off for good.
“It’s a Thursday night, kids are starting hockey, there are plenty of other places for people to be but they want to be here for this,” he said. “It shows that we’re not being heard by the highways (ministry). We’ve had these open houses since 2012 and we see no outcome of it.”
There are also more than 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for action.
The petition was given to Buckley Belanger, NDP MLA for Athabasca to present to the Saskatchewan legislative assembly.
The Sask. Party has said the ‘matter is closed’ when it comes to any option of reopening the road due to safety concerns, adding that numerous reviews of the intersection had no safe option.
Doug Wakabayashi with the Ministry of Highways was also present. He said the meeting was needed to hear peoples’ points of view.
“First of all, it gives us an opportunity to explain the rationale behind that decision,” Wakabayashi said. “As we’ve heard quite clearly tonight there’s (also) concerns about access to businesses, so again we want to talk about what options there might be to make sure those business are visible.”
Wakabayashi added that the concerns raised emergency first responders in the community about getting to a collision are a high priority.
“I think our deputy minister said it quite clearly, ‘We’re not experts in an emergency response plan, we move dirt,'” he said. “So we can provide points where first responders can get on and off the highway what we need is the feedback from the fire department, from the town, from RCMP, from ambulance — those stake holders to understand what they need form a infrastructure stand point that would work and provide a solid response plan for the community.”
For now, people of Balgonie will have to wait until Monday when the ministry will be holding another meeting.
Editors note: In the article Michael Lapchuk indicates the meeting took place on a Thursday. The meeting took place on Wednesday Sept. 20, 2017.