Fort Chipewyan winter road ends shortest season in 16 years

·3 min read

After warm weather caused late starts and temporary closures, the shortest season for the Fort Chipewyan winter road ended at noon on March 23 with 59 days.

The winter road opened Dec. 31, but a mild January weakened an ice crossing and forced the road to close temporarily. Shifting ice closed the winter road for 24 hours in February. Tuesday marked the road's shortest season since 2005-06.

The road has been open for fewer than 100 days since the 2016-17 season. Warm weather has caused temporary road closures in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2008-09 and now 2020-21.

The municipality announced on Friday that load limits would drop to 5,000 kilograms until the closure. But, community leaders say enough supplies were hauled into Fort Chipewyan to last until next winter.

Chief Peter Powder of the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) said trucks brought 16 of 19 housing units up the road this winter. He considers this a success, considering the tight window to transport heavy loads.

“We feel really good about this accomplishment because 16 families are going to get new homes,” said Powder. “It puts a smile on my face because this is what we’re here to do.”

Powder confirmed Fort Chipewyan was able to bring enough fuel to get the hamlet through another year, along with food and other supplies.

“We’re looking at what’s most important in life,” said Powder. “You want shelter, you want food and you want to have heat in your house. We met all those targets.”

In a Facebook Live stream on Wednesday, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) also said the community is stocked until next winter.

“It’s all been completed and our job is done here,” said Adam. “High water continues to be factor so now we have to worry about people out in the bush and have to mindful that flood season is coming upon us again.”

As the winter road season closes, President Kendrick Cardinal of the Fort Chipewyan Métis Local #125 reminded all travellers to drive safe.

“We travelled the road recently and there’s a bit of water and it’s kind of rough but it’s still safe for travel,” said Cardinal. “It’s very important to be cautious and obey all speed limits now.”

The only exception to the 5,000-kilogram load limit is heavier loads leaving Fort Chipewyan and travelling south. Daytime restrictions remain in effect for heavier vehicles travelling south: From 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. the load limit for southbound traffic is 40,000 kilograms and during the day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. the load limit is 5,000 kilograms.

Vehicles heavier than 5,000 kilograms will not be allowed to travel north on the winter road.

With warmer weather, snow is melting and 120-kilometre section of the winter road through the sandhills is soft with ruts and potholes. Vehicles with four-wheel drive and high clearance are strongly recommended by the municipality.

-with files from Vincent McDermott

Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today