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Moose Cree winter road opens

Tuesday February 19, 2013
Trucks cross the French River on the way south from Moose Factory.

On its third try, Moose Cree First Nation has successfully completed its winter road leading south, allowing those on the James Bay coast to connect with the Ontario highway system.

After two months of clearing and widening the road, the First Nation officially opened the 170-kilometre Wetum Road on Feb. 15, allowing northern travellers to reach Otter Rapids and drive the all-season roads that lead to Highway 11.

“There’s a lot of excitement here in Moose Factory, and I imagine in Moosonee and the northern communities,” Chief Norman Hardisty said just days before the road opened.

Hardisty said the road allows those in the north to take advantage of lower food and retail prices as well as visit family members that migrated south.

“We do have a lot of First Nations people in the Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins and Sudbury area going south,” he said. “The road itself will be something new for our people here.”

Moose Cree first began construction on the road during the 2010-2011 winter season, but six-inches of ice on the Abitibi River was not safe enough for crews to clear a path.
Last winter, the road fell 17 kilometres short of completion as unseasonably warm weather in March ended the project for the season.

This year, Hardisty said cold temperatures enabled crews to work from late-December to complete the clearing of the Wetum Road.

He also attributed the work done from the last year that allowed the road to be complete this year.

“We were 80 per cent complete and it was a matter of working on the road that was already cleared last year,” he said. “A lot of work went into a dense area. That was the obstacle this year and we were able to work on that.”

And while the road is officially open, the First Nation recommends at this time that only vehicles with 4X4 capability travel the road.

“It obviously it won’t be in perfect shape (this year) but over the years it will be as good as the winter road going north to Attawapiskat,” Hardisty said.

Based on estimates from the contractor, Hardisty said it will take at least three hours to drive from Moose Factory to Otter Rapids. From there, it takes about two hours to reach the town of Smooth Rock Falls. Travellers can drive anywhere on the highway system from Smooth Rock Falls.

Hardisty said the First Nation hopes the road will be open for a month.

“Only the weather will allow us to go six weeks,” he said.

The First Nation held a ceremony at French River, located about 60 kilometres down the Wetum Road, to officially open the road.

Hardisty said he is excited about the road finally being completed.

“We did a lot of hard work on this road,” he said. “And we’re going to see the reality behind all the hard work our people have put into this.”

He also applauded the contractors that took on a minimal budget and limited timeframe to complete the road.

“They’ve been cooperative and I believe that this is the work of the community and you can’t beat that.”

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