SFN Chief Harley Chappell (centre) speaks at last month’s groundbreaking for the infrastructure work. (File photo)

‘Pay $50,000 for water or leave,’ B.C. First Nation tells non-member residents

Chief says demand for non-member payment part of goal to have boil-water advisory lifted

Non-band members who reside on the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve have learned that they have until till 4 p.m. April 30 to come up with $50,000 – the minimum it will cost to connect their homes to Surrey’s water and sanitary sewer lines – or start packing.

SFN Chief Harley Chappell said Wednesday the news, shared April 2, was a necessary step in ongoing efforts to improve the Semiahmoo’s standard of living, with water for drinking and fire-suppression, as well as sanitary sewer services.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to have a longstanding boil-water advisory lifted.

“Really, that’s the driving force behind this,” Chappell told Peace Arch News. “For Semiahmoo to be lifted off the boil-water advisory, everybody needs to be hooked up to municipal services.

“By no means is this anything personal. This is to… move us into a new era.”

READ MORE: Semiahmoo First Nation to have safe drinking water

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He confirmed 36 homes on three lots are affected, and that residents who can’t or won’t pay will have two months – until June 15 – to return the property to its natural state and leave.

Some who received the notice described it as “so unreasonable.”

“We need help, there are many seniors as well as my dad (who face losing their) homes they built and younger people that recently purchased (their) homes,” Nicole Brideau told PAN by email Tuesday.

“Can they do this when the government is funding the water… project?”

Brideau said her father, 77, has lived on the reserve for 45 years. He and other non-band members are “not at all” able to pay the $50,000 she said.

“Nobody is, actually, and they know that.

“I don’t know how this is in any way right.”

Chappell said neither the fee nor timeline should have come as much of a surprise to those who received the notice, which also details additional costs to non-members including “lift station” fees of $60,000.

Conversations around establishing the connections began in 2017, a year after notice from the City of White Rock that the band’s access to the waterfront city’s supply was to end, Chappell said.

During that first conversation, non-band members were advised that costs associated with connecting their homes “would be on them,” a reality Chappell says they were reminded of during a September 2018 meeting.

“It was kind of that hard, first conversation that we started to say, ‘this is going to cost you a substantial amount of funds and get ready,’” he said.

“‘You need to start making some choices and decisions around what you’re going to do, working towards hooking up to this infrastructure or not, and the ‘or not’ is, well then you can no longer reside on Semiahmoo First Nation.’

“It’s not an easy conversation, it’s not an easy direction we have to move, but it is a direction the Semiahmoo needs to move to raise the living standards of Semiahmoo.”

Brideau said a figure as high as $50,000 was never mentioned.

The SFN has been under a permanent boil-water advisory since 2005. Following a servicing agreement reached with Surrey last summer, the band received approval for the milestone infrastructure from Indigenous Services Canda in January.

The $10-million project – during which more than two kilometres of pipe is to be laid between Highway 99 and the Little Campbell River – got underway in March, and it’s hoped the first connection will be complete by the end of the year.

At a March 8 groundbreaking ceremony, Chappell described the occasion as “a very momentous, historic day for the Semiahmoo.”

He told PAN that same day that consultation was still underway with non-band members regarding their connections, as federal funding only covers SFN members, and that costs of that had yet to be determined.

Wednesday, he noted that non-members have been living on the reserve as month-to-month “buckshee” – without a formal agreement – residents since 2008, when the ISC cancelled all cottage leases.

He acknowledged that the process of late “has been extremely quick, and ultimately, that has filtered down.”

He said it took on additional urgency in late December, following a suspicious fire at his father’s home. No one was hurt, but “everything was lost,” he said.

Chappell confirmed the blaze factored into a decision to include a clear warning in the April 2 notice that “any perceived threats” or damage will not be tolerated.

“If there’s even rumblings of it, removal will happen immediately,” he told PAN.

Chappell said while he had anticipated some upset from non-band members regarding the infrastructure costs, “I don’t know how anybody could ever have any issue with bringing water and sanitary sewer to the community, and fire suppression.”

A meeting is planned for next week with non-band members who decide to stay, to “start discussion” on what incurring the costs is going to look like, he said. Asked if those who choose to stay will have any guarantee that they won’t be asked to leave once their connection is in place, Chappell said “if people choose to invest, then we’re invested in working with them.”

The ISC will not issue any new leases until after the boil-water advisory is lifted, he noted.

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Part of the notice that non-band members received this month, outlining fees associated with connecting to Surrey’s municipal services. (Contributed photo)

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