The long road to a northern road begins
- Brendan Mayer | November 03, 2020
Progress is being made on a long-awaited seasonal road connecting Wollaston Lake and the Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation to Highway 905.
“The community has been waiting for this project to happen for the last 30 years,” Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation member and Prince Albert Ground Council Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie said. “People are excited to get this completed. Points Athabasca had a good summer. The majority of the work will be done this winter during freeze-up.”
“It’s something that’s needed,” said John Scarfe, CEO of Points Athabasca Points who have been contracted to work on the 102 km road. “It will bring down the cost of living by a huge amount. Some people find it unbelievable that we’re moving dirt and cutting trees. There’s a little bit of skepticism.”
Hatchet Lake and Wollaston Lake are currently only accessible by air, ice road or ferry.
“The ice road that keeps getting built every year just melts,” Tsannie said. “The ferry that we have going into the community is not big enough. They can’t keep up with the demand.”
Points Athabasca has done work in the communities for more than 20 years and plans to employ around 15 people to work on the project until March.
“Local people are passionate about working on it,” Scarfe said. “Most of our employees come from Wollaston Lake. There’s a lot of opportunities to bring income back to that community. Hiring local is a top priority.”
“People on the First Nation are capable of doing the work,” Tsannie said. “It only makes sense. The community is the driver of this initiative.”
Indigenous Services Canada is providing $6.5 million for the project over two years and the province has committed to maintain the road and to contribute $250,000.
“We have been lobbying the provincial and federal governments to get this project completed,” Tsannie said. “Points Athabasca was part of the lobbying efforts and building a relationship with the community and knowing the community. That knowledge is very important.”
The funding is going towards building a snow road, which is phase one of the project.
“We don’t expect it to be passable this winter,” Scarfe said. “The intent is to have a snow road for 2022 and get to the next phase. We are working on that. It is quite challenging. We have financing to get us through the end of March. We are going to pursue more funding for the next phase. We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
The plan for phase two is a longer seasonal road that would be used for approximately 10 months of the year and the final goal is to build an all-season road.
“It’s still a long way away until the road is fully complete or will be opened,” Tsannie said. “Keeping this project rolling is going to be very important. That is what we’re hoping to see. We will continue to work with the province and the federal government. They want to see this project completed.”