Bellevue Residents Fed-up with Hwy 225

It was a disappointment, to say the least, that the CBC did not attend the meeting in Bellevue on Friday, June 2, 2023, as promised, but to be fair, the interviewer was sick, and although not present in person, they did conduct an interview via Zoom with the organizer of the meeting.  They did also send a cameraman, but his arrival was well after people began to disperse. The CBC has promised to continue to follow the story.

At 10:00 am the seating area of La Capitaine Restaurant was filled with local residents fed up with the condition of Highway #225, the main roadway into the hamlet. When the weather is dry the road surface is solid and does not reflect the swampy slurry of liquified clay this highway becomes when it rains. Those present recounted numerous incidents on the road which have resulted in near misses with oncoming traffic, damage to tires and rims from rocks embedded in the road surface, and one instance where one of those rocks was flung up by a large truck and struck another vehicle resulting in $4000.00 damage.

Every spring, and after any significant rain, Sindy Tait, CAO of the Rural Municipality of St. Louis, said the RM office is inundated with calls from ratepayers complaining about the condition of the highway, but the RM is powerless to do anything because the maintenance and repair of highways is the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Highways. She also shared that she has sent numerous letters to the Ministry requesting that something be done to improve that highway. It’s apparent those requests continue to fall on deaf ears.

Jennie Baudais, the President of the Hamlet Council, commented to the assembled group of people that for the past two days the Highways department had been very busy spreading gravel on the road in question. Residents of the hamlet and the surrounding rural area have contacted Premier Scott Moe, MLA for the Batoche riding Delbert Kirsch, Minister for Highways the Hon. Jeremy Cockrill, Global News Saskatoon, CTV News Saskatoon, and CBC in attempts to get someone to acknowledge that there is a problem. After the rainfall that occurred May 24-25, Facebook pages with links to Bellevue were filled with pictures of rocks in the roadbed that had been unearthed by the sloppy conditions, comments from people indicating they avoid travel to the community because of the condition of Hwy 225, more descriptions of damage done to vehicles, and the tale of two tourists who had assumed a highway would be passable even during a rain. When they ultimately made it to La Captaine in Bellevue they wanted to take any road other than Hwy 225 to get back out of the community.

In 2019, the residents and business owners in Bellevue and the surrounding area celebrated the grand re-opening of the section of Highway #225 between the village and Highway #2. Previously, the highway had curved around Minitinas Hill, commonly known as Bellevue Hill, and with the rebuilding the highway cut through the centre of the hill. While some people felt intimidated by the steep drop off either side of the new section of highway, the former curve had become increasingly dangerous following some heavy rainfall years which caused erosion of the side of the hill and rocks making their way from the hillside onto the roadway. The celebrations didn’t last long as the gravel that had been added to the top of the roadway east of the hill was gradually engulfed in the quagmire of clay and the former problems made themselves evident again.

Even greater than disappointment that the chance to share their story fell through, the people who took the time out of their day to be present for the meeting expressed anger that their concerns were still not being heard, that their MLA Delbert Kirsch would come to the community the day prior to the meeting to stop and talk with management at Belle Pulses, but couldn’t spare the time to meet with those wanting answers to their questions about Hwy 225. There was also anger at the RM of St. Louis for what some perceived as “not doing enough” to try and bring the provincial government back to the table. While some thought that the community should put up ‘Road Closed’ signage the next time it rains and call CBC to come film, more were resigned to being forgotten. As one gentleman said he wasn’t holding his breath on anything getting done, and there were many negative headshakes in agreement.

The village of St. Isidore-de-Bellevue is one of a handful of Francophone communities in Saskatchewan and the only one in central Saskatchewan. As such it was a place people would stop to visit the cultural centre. Often, they would then continue down the highway to Batoche. At one time the shared historical past of Batoche and Bellevue had them working collaboratively for tourism in the region. However, as the road deteriorated fewer people were willing to travel to Batoche from Highway 2, and over time fewer and fewer people availed themselves of the wealth of historical insight available at l’Association culturelle de Bellevue.

From the 1950s until the early 2000s Hwy 225 had been a TMS (thin membrane surface) highway which according to a Transportation Research Board report from 2001 is a “very cost-effective and relatively easy to maintain” option for low volume roads. However, “[i]ncreases in commercial truck traffic hold significant and often immediate negative implications for these roads. Thin membrane surface roads were not designed to accommodate the number of heavily loaded commercial trucks they are now experiencing.” In speaking to individuals who have lived in the community, they concurred that this is what happened to the 225. With very little being done to maintain and salvage it aside from a resurfacing that occurred in the late 1990s prior to a visit to Bellevue by then Governor General Roméo LeBlanc, the increased weight of commercial vehicles and farm equipment was too much for the surface and what resulted was a broken and rutted mess.

A letter dating back to May 2010 draws a clear picture of the frustration felt by local taxpayers at that time who had seen work start on the upgrading of the highway and then stall out. “It is unacceptable that we still find ourselves in this situation. We cannot impress enough upon the decision makers how important it is for our governments to prioritize the upgrading #225 to a sealed pebbled surface road as had been promised…”. Comments on the Bellevue and area Facebook page regarding the state of the #225 reflect a similar frustration: “the 225 was so bad on Thursday during the rain (almost slid in the ditch) that I took the back roads around”, “I had to punch the gas to get the truck straight so I didn’t sideswipe the oncoming vehicle…it is absolutely ridiculous”, [email protected] This is the email for Delbert Kirsch.  Ask him to drive our ‘highway’ when it is raining!”, “Our gravel road is now a dirt road. What a mess” Perhaps the most telling sentiment was demonstrated at Friday’s meeting when someone said, “With an election next year maybe something will happen”, to which the only response was a roll of the eyes and a quiet ‘hmmph’.

The people of Bellevue and area feel that they have been lied to and ignored. Their concerns for their safety and the safety of the children who ride the school buses into and out of the village are real and they feel unheard and wonder if it will take an horrific accident to get things done. They certainly hope not.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder

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