Residents of Fort Smith had no access to cell service, long-distance calling or Internet after the fibre optic line to the community was cut by Parks Canada crews along Highway 5 on Tuesday, May 22.
The outage began at 1:08 p.m., taking out all bank services, debit and credit card purchases and communication with the outside world until it was resolved through temporary splicing at 9:00 p.m. that evening, followed by a permanent repair at 10:25 p.m.
The cut occurred near kilometre 169 on Highway 5 between Sass River and Fort Smith in Wood Buffalo National Park and was noticeable immediately as a fibre cut due to the total loss of services in Fort Smith.
According to Parks Canada spokesperson Tim Gauthier, the crew had been using a backhoe to fill in sinkholes that had opened up along the road when the line was cut.
Parks Canada could not confirm whether or not a call had been placed to Northwestel’s Call Before You Dig line ahead of time, but said the matter was currently under internal investigation.
Northwestel is also investigating the incident. A company spokesperson, Emily Younker, confirmed that Parks Canada was responsible for the outage, but said the agency is not being accused of negligence at this time. In checking with their monitoring desk, Younker said no call was made to the Call Before You Dig line.
“There are precautions road crews think they have taken when sometimes it’s not always correct, so we’re not saying Parks Canada was negligent in any way here, but we don’t have a cable locate request on file with them at this time,” she said. “That said, we’re still in the (investigation) process on that specific one.”
Younker added that Northwestel is working with Parks Canada to ensure better communication about fibre optic cable locations throughout the area.
She said in cases where a line is cut, technicians have the difficult and lengthy job of finding the break’s location before they can even begin repairs.
“It takes time for us to first locate where the problem is and then our nearest technician has to go out and drive along and try and find where the fibre cut has happened,” she said. “So it can take some time.”
Younker said the cost of the damages has not been calculated yet. Initially, Northwestel incurs the cost of equipment, labour and the fibre optic cable itself. In the event that a party is found negligent following an investigation, the company has the ability to bill anybody who damages its equipment for direct costs.
She strongly advised anybody doing any digging to use Northwestel’s Call Before You Dig line at 1-888-920-3546.