Three years after breaking ground, officials gathered Tuesday, Aug. 20 to officially celebrate the completion of a four-laning Highway 97 just south of Williams Lake.
Initially the project was expected to be completed earlier, however, it experienced setbacks due to the 2017 wildfires and subsequent flooding in 2018, said WLIB Chief Willie Sellars.
“As people drive through the area, they also reflect on the longevity of this project,” Sellars said. “Mother Nature really threw us through the ringer on this one with the wildfires, with flooding, there was a laundry list of things that needed to get done that challenged us. Hats off to Cantex Okanagan for getting it done because it’s a gorgeous highway and a gateway to Williams Lake.”
Sellars said $2 million in wages resulted for band members.
“It’s life-changing money for those individuals that were working on this project and the fact they were able to gain skills that will project them to other work in the future.”
He also described the four-laned six kilometre stretch of new highway infrastructure as a gateway to Williams Lake.
“It’s opening up our frontage road and moving into our economic initiatives with our golf course, residential and commercial development as we build it out it’s going to be something special for the future of the Williams Lake Indian Band.”
MLA Donna Barnett who pushed for the project constantly and worked with former Chief Ann Louie to get it going, said she remembered standing with then Minister Todd Stone at the site for the ground-breaking in 2016.
“Many negotiations went on between the band and the province and it all worked out. It’s a great project and I’m so grateful this opportunity was here for the band,” Barnett said. “Cantex, I know you did an amazing job, and I know the troubles you had to go through. My phone never stopped ringing when it was 50 kilometres an hour as if it was my fault, but that’s OK. It is part of my job.”
She also praised the WLIB flaggers.
“They were friendly and smiled. I go through a lot of construction zones and I can tell you, sometimes they aren’t smiling.”
Praising Lake Excavating for providing training and helping people move forward, she thanked Karl and Reta Seibert who were there on behalf of their son, Trevor Seibert, who owns the company.
“This was a true community partnership and I’m so proud of Todd Stone who leaned in a few times when we needed more money for the project.”
Acting Williams Lake Mayor Scott Nelson congratulated the band and said the project is a catalyst to be proud of.
“When you look at the partnership that took place here and the leadership of the WLIB, this project lays out the foundation of future economic development beside the community of Williams Lake and is a proud icon for the WLIB.”
Paula Cousins, acting executive director of the MOTI, said the finished project was well worth the wait, as she thanked all of the people involved in the project.
“I want to thank everyone who helped make this more than a typical highway improvement project and thank all of the community members for your patience as we got through this longer than anticipated construction phase.”