'We've got hope now': Deal reached to build Shoal Lake 40's Freedom Road
3 levels of government put forward up to $40 million to pay for new road
The province of Manitoba, City of Winnipeg and federal government have reached a three-way funding agreement that could see construction of Shoal Lake 40's Freedom Road begin in a matter of weeks.
On Monday government representatives met with Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky in Winnipeg to discuss the project.
"We've got hope now," said Redsky after the meeting.
"We're not just building a road. We're building a relationship."
The federal government has agreed to pay up to $20 million toward the 24-kilometre road that would connect Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to the Trans-Canada Highway, while the province and city will each agreed to pay $10 million.
The new agreement puts $10 million more toward the project than the agreement reached last year when the Manitoba NDP were in power.
Manitoba's Indigenous Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said the agreement ensures local residents are employed on the construction project.
Clarke said construction will begin in a matter of weeks.
"Today was a good day. Today was a really good day," said Mayor Brian Bowman.
Shoal Lake 40, which is on a peninsula, was effectively made into an island more than 100 years ago during construction of Winnipeg's water system. Winnipeg tap water still flows from Shoal Lake.
No megaphone needed. Bowman & Redsky greeeted by cheers at rally for Freedom Road Shoal Lake 40. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbcmb?src=hash">#cbcmb</a> <a href="https://t.co/Jun52o0vrK">pic.twitter.com/Jun52o0vrK</a>—@meaganfiddler
"The significance of where our water comes from is not lost on Winnipeggers. Every time we turn on our tap, every time we get a Tim Hortons coffee, it comes from Shoal Lake," said Bowman.
After construction of the road, Redsky said his first priority is to build a water treatment plant so Shoal Lake 40 can lift its nearly two-decade-long boil water advisory.
Mayor thanks demonstrators
Friends of Shoal Lake 40 demonstrators stood outside Winnipeg City Hall with signs and banners ahead of Monday's meeting demanding three levels of government honour their promise to build a road to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
Chief Redsky shook hands with the demonstrators and said he would like to see construction of Freedom Road begin as soon as possible.
Bowman thanked the demonstrators for their "passion."
"We want to start this winter. We want to start this week," Redsky said before the meeting.
"We want action," he said. "No more promises. No more nice words."
Redsky said the situation in his community is dangerous right now, with no reliable way to get in and out of Shoal Lake 40. The community's barge broke down again on Friday, and the ice isn't thick enough to drive on.
"Three pieces of the puzzle: we want to complete our piece and work with our partners to move forward immediately. No more words, no more promises. Let's get on the ground and let's get 'er done this winter. That's my hope," said Redsky.
Redsky is calling on the federal government to fund immediate construction on its chunk.
"I think we're done with words and promises. I think it's time for action. I know the First Nation has a plan moving forward and we hope the federal government supports us to start building immediately with the all weather road. That's one of the things we'd like to see on Monday," said Redsky.
Redsky said he had hoped to bring the community's elders to the meeting but didn't want to risk their lives crossing the lake after the barge broke down.
At least 30 people were left stranded on the mainland from 11:30 a.m. Friday until early Saturday morning when the barge stopped working on its way to pick them up.
Shoal Lake 40 residents stranded, resident says
Community members worked through the night to ensure everyone made it home or off of the man-made island by walking across the newly formed ice.
Redsky believes construction of the road will prevent more dangerous situations like Friday's.
"You see young families out there, bringing their kids home or taking groceries and bringing groceries back. It's really challenging and difficult, but we survive and we're in survival mode right now," he said.
Premier Brian Pallister has been firm on his party's commitment to build the road, but the financing is still the subject of negotiations between the province and the federal government.
Designs were approved in November and are undergoing an environmental review, and Pallister has said construction will begin in February.
With files from Meagan Fiddler