Winter roads need money

·2 min read

The method used to determine how much the province should set aside for the annual construction of temporary winter roads for accessing remote Northern Ontario First Nations needs to reflect rising costs, says NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa.

In an interview last week, Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong) said he was mystified when he learned that the $6-million amount the province allocated for the 3,170-kilometre winter-road network had not been increased from last year.

“I’m not even sure how that was calculated,” Mamakwa said from his Sioux Lookout constituency office.

“It seems like it was arbitrary, not based on need.”

When the allotment was announced, Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford (Kenora-Rainy River) highlighted the importance of winter roads, but didn’t say why the amount did not go up as it has in previous winters.

Mamakwa noted that while the price of fuel for vehicles has gone up everywhere in the province since last winter, the spike has been especially felt in remote Indigenous communities, where the pump price often incorporates the cost of air transport.

Mamakwa, who is from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, said when remote communities not accessible by road run out of fuel in summer, it must be brought in by aircraft.

When that happened this year, the price of gasoline in some communities soared to as much as $4 per litre, said Mamakwa.

Indigenous “airports are life-lines for bringing in food and for accessing health care,” he said. “So are winter roads, for bringing in fuel and materials to build houses and schools.”

Kingfisher Lake is located about 350 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout. Of the total $6 million announced by the province for winter roads, Kingfisher received just over $290,000 to build a 250-kilometre temporary route to Pickle Lake — the most northerly place in Ontario that has year-round road access.

Mamakwa said on a good day, it takes about five hours to drive from Kingfisher to Pickle Lake because you can’t safely exceed a speed of 60 km/h. It’s not unusual to poke along as slow as 20 km/h over some sections of the route, he said.

Kingfisher’s road includes one river crossing. Most winter roads are available by the end of January or early February, but climate change is believed to be causing the seasonal routes to be constructed much later in the season. The amount of time they’re open is also shorter compared to earlier decades.

“If you need to get your truck serviced, or do some bulk shopping, this is the only way you can do it,” said Mamakwa.

A re-working of the provincial funding formula for winter roads needs to take in account the cost of training locals to maintain them once they’re in service, Mamakwa added.

Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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