Communities along the James Bay coast are examining the potential of an all-season road to link four First Nations to the rest of Ontario.
A pre-feasibility study on the potential for an all-season road is due to the Mushkegowuk chiefs in December.
Once the report is submitted, the James Bay All-Season Road Project can move into the feasibility study stages.
Fort Albany First Nation Chief Andrew Solomon believes the road will be beneficial to the James Bay communities.
“I think it’s going to be good for communities as it will cut costs for the community and whole region,” he said. “It will help with purchasing everything. We can go and get it just like anyone in Ontario. It would help in infrastructure and the common person.”
Since its construction, the railway has been the primary link between the James Bay communities and the south. With no highway or all-season road, the communities rely on rail or air for travel, both of which operate on limited schedules and can be costly.
A round-trip flight between Fort Albany and Timmins for one adult can cost up to $900. This is particularly difficult for the communities of Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat, who rely on air travel during non-winter months when there isn’t a winter road.
These transportation limitations also affect the availability and costs of goods and services, resulting in higher costs for basic needs such as food. Lower water levels for barges and shorter winter road seasons in recent years have made it more difficult.
Chief Norman Hardisty of Moose Cree First Nation said his community has always discussed the need of an all-season road.
“We’ve always discussed those issues and we’ve always known that there would be an all-season road, and it was a matter of time when,” he said.
The study began in 2007, with the communities suggesting potential routes.
A company called exp (formerly Trow Associates) was hired to explore the technical and environmental aspects of the project.
In 2009, a detailed analysis began on the possible routes outlined by the communities. There were initially 25 suggested inland routes and as of March 2011 these were narrowed down to four after a detailed analysis by exp.
“That analysis involved things like: What’s the lay of the land? How much water, how many river crossings? Is there significant wildlife populations?” Dean Fitzgerald, project lead for exp, said. “We merged the engineering aspects of building a road and environmental considerations. We did that because we know that environmental considerations are very important, particularly in this part of the world and its importance to the Cree people.”
There are four proposed routes for the all-seasonal road, all containing a coastal road that connects Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moosonee and Moose Factory.
The coastal route is one deemed a priority by the communities, says Fitzgerald, citing the increased access to family and goods and services.
“Everyone agrees that the coastal route is important, but the inland is up for discussion,” he said.
The four proposed routes have different starting and ending points.
Route A begins north of Constance Lake, near Hearst, Ont., traveling along the Albany River and connecting with Fort Albany and Kashechewan.
Route B starts near Hearst, going up a local road and traveling along the Kwatoboahegan River and connecting with Moosonee.
Routes C-1 and C-2 both connect with Moosonee, with C-1 starting at Smokey Falls and C-2 at Otter Rapids. A road connecting Cochrane to those starting points already exists.
Fitzgerald said in exp’s report, it estimates the inland road could cost between $350-450 million, while the coastal route could cost $250-350 million.
Community consultation and education was the last part of the pre-feasibilty stage, with exp holding community visits in each James Bay community in July, August and September. The communities are also being educated through local television and radio stations.
Hardisty said it’s important for the communities to stay focused on why an all-season road is needed.
“We need to ensure that when we make decisions, that we do it for economic reasons for each community,” he said. “I think it’s a project where the First Nations are looking forward to this.”
Solomon shares the sentiment, adding that the communities need to be prepared for the changes that will come with the road.
For instance, community members will have to abide by the Traffic Act when driving on the highways and will need to insure vehicles.
He also said there are negative aspects.
“We also need to understand and prepare ourselves that when we open our territory, industry will descend like wolves in our area,” he said. “How are the First Nations going to monitor these things? There’s going to be a lot of impact.”
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, FedNor and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation are funding the study.
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