Couchiching water squabble not resolved, says mayor

Despite word from the regional bureau of Indian and Northern Affairs last week that the town would be paid for Couchiching First Nation’s water and sewer arrears, the issue is far from resolved, Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk said Thursday morning.
“Let’s put it this way. I will say this much—what was quoted in the paper from a bureaucrat in Thunder Bay and the letter we received were two different stories,” he remarked.
“This issue is not resolved,” the mayor stressed, adding work is being done “on a daily basis” to come to some resolution.
Neither INAC’s regional office nor Couchiching Chief Chuck McPherson could be reached for comment prior to press time.
The matter was discussed behind closed doors during the committee of the whole portion of council’s regular meeting on Monday, and will be again at a special committee of the whole meeting scheduled for this coming Monday (Nov. 29).
Mayor Onichuk again stressed he had to be confidential regarding details of Couchiching’s arrears and the lack of a resolution, noting the situation had to be treated as if it involved any other private water customer’s account.
As reported in the Nov. 15 edition of the Daily Bulletin, INAC had until last Thursday (Nov. 18) “to settle the cumulative arrears owing for sewer and water services to Couchiching First Nation, as provided under agreement by the Town of Fort Frances.”
Failure to do so would result in the town “pursuing remedy under Section 6 of said agreement,” or, in so many words, terminating water and sewer services to Couchiching.
This order stemmed from the Nov. 8 council meeting, when a motion was passed after discussing the issue during the in-camera portion of the committee of the whole meeting.
Later that week, there was a meeting here at which Chief McPherson, Mayor Onichuk, and Bob Howsam, regional director general for INAC, pledged to work together to develop short- and long-term solutions to the water and sewer agreement issue.
At that time, Mayor Onichuk said he “was given a personal commitment they [INAC] would deal with the issue prior to Nov. 18.”
Then in the Nov. 17 edition of the Times, INAC senior information officer Susan Bertrand said INAC had responded to the town’s ultimatum to pay up because having no water or sewer service to Couchiching residents was a serious “health and safety issue.”
“We are committed to providing the residents of Couchiching with clean drinking water,” she had stressed.
Bertrand noted then that INAC has earmarked $200,000 in 2004-05 to pay for Couchiching’s water and sewer costs. But she would not reveal exactly how much Couchiching’s account is in arrears.
Couchiching, just like all properties outside town limits that receive services from the Town of Fort Frances, currently is charged double the average cost per cubic metre for sewer and water.