A private engineering firm, Effigis Geo-Solutions, has been inspecting Kahnawake’s utility pole network over the last two weeks after one owned by Bell Canada came down on Old Malone Highway last month, leaving 1,500 Kahnawa’kehró:non without power on the coldest day of the year.
Hydro Quebec contracted the independent firm to do this work after Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Arnold Boyer reached out to Hydro Quebec about the state of the reserve’s utility poles, concerned that other poles may fail.
“The main target of our inspection was not the poles but our equipment, which is installed on these poles,” said Cendrix Bouchard, a spokesperson for Hydro Quebec. “However, if we do notice an issue with the poles we will inform our partner Bell.”
It has been 10 years since Hydro Quebec conducted an inspection of their equipment in Kahnawake, according to Bouchard.
Effigis has been inspecting the utility-pole network along Highway 207 and in the residential area surrounding the downed pole, but local fibre optic company owners Kameron Lahache of First Nations Fiber and Wallace Stacey of K Fiber Optic both said while they’re supportive of further attention being paid to the poles, there are areas where the poles are especially dilapidated that have been left off the inspection route. Lahache pointed to Old Chateauguay Road, while Stacey expressed concern over the utility poles on River Road.
“It’s just a matter of time until we have another poll that falls and then people are going to be without power,” said Lahache.
Bell and Hydro Quebec require their companies to survey the poles, which means that First Nations Fiber and K Fiber Optic have extensive data on Kahnawake’s utility poles. Nobody knows Kahnawake’s utility poles like Lahache and Stacey do.
“The route was determined by a discussion Hydro Quebec had with (MCK) chief Arnold Boyer and his concerns about public safety,” according to Bouchard.
Boyer said that he had mentioned the downed pole to Hydro Quebec but that he communicated a broad concern for the utility poles in Kahnawake. According to Boyer, Hydro Quebec did not inform him of the route the inspection would take when he spoke to them.
Boyer mentioned that he also reached out to Bell Canada, but the telecommunications company had not been very responsive.
After The Eastern Door reported that Bell had been notified of the condition of the utility pole through a maintenance request submitted by First Nations Fiber 10 months before it came down, Bell claimed that they were unaware.
In a statement to The Eastern Door, a spokesperson for the company said, “Bell received in April 2022 an access permit application from First Nation Telecom (sic) in which there is no mention of the problematic pole.”
But Lahache said this is untrue.
“Somebody has to take responsibility at the end of the day. And as of this point, it doesn’t really seem as though anybody is, for whatever reason, reasons that I currently don’t understand,” said Lahache.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility for what’s happened and what needs to be done,” he continued.
Lahache is frustrated with the lack of accountability, especially given the life-threatening dangers that anomalies in utility-pole networks currently pose.
“Whether it’s MCK or Hydro who does the work, it doesn’t make a difference to me at this point. It’s just something that needs to get done,” said Lahache.
“As a whole, the utility-pole network is still not up to standard compared to the rest of the province,” said Lahache. “That’s an issue that needs to be dealt with.”
Stacey likened the issue to a house rental. When minor issues arise, a burnt-out bulb for instance, the tenant may be equipped to solve the issue. However, if there are structural flaws in the house, the landlord is responsible for solving the problem.
“Considering the landlord here is Bell Canada, I think it’s their duty to fix this,” said Stacey.
According to Lahache, Bell is pushing for a letter of authorization from MCK that would allow the corporation access to utility poles stationed on private property. This could pose jurisdictional issues for MCK, as some in the community may not want to grant Bell or Hydro Quebec access to their land.
But to Lahache, the risk these poles may pose to neighbours who don’t have a say in the matter is enough to situate the issue clearly in MCK’s jurisdiction. He is committed to communicating with all parties involved to ensure they respond with urgency and reach a solution that will ameliorate this critical infrastructure and ensure the community’s safety.
“It’s gone on long enough where our community has suffered because of the lack of maintenance that’s done on the utility pole network. Something needs to change,” said Lahache.