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Thousands petition Winnipeg city hall to fund Shoal Lake road

More than 3,000 people are petitioning Winnipeg city hall to make good on a commitment to help build a road for a reserve cut off by an aqueduct which provides fresh water to the city.

The reserve was cut off from the mainland a century ago during construction of an aqueduct

Community elder Grace Redsky from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation performs a water healing ceremony in June at a man-made channel made to support Winnipeg's water system which has cut them off from the mainland. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

More than 3,000 people are petitioning Winnipeg city hall to make good on a commitment to help build a road for a reserve cut off by an aqueduct which provides fresh water to the city.

The petition was started over concerns that Winnipeg is backing away from its promise to fund construction of an all-weather road, called Freedom Road, for the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

The reserve — on the Manitoba-Ontario boundary — was cut off from the mainland a century ago during construction of the aqueduct.

The reserve has been under one of the longest boil-water advisories in Canada and its plight became an issue during the recent federal election campaign.

The reserve spends about $250,000 a year to bring in clean water. It wants to build a water treatment plant but need a permanent road into the community.

Christian musician Steve Bell started the petition and says the city doesn't appear prepared to put money in this year's budget for the project.

He says if the city doesn't budget for the road this year, it will cause a delay in construction.

The City of Winnipeg released the following statement Thursday in response to the petition:

Since 1989, when the city and the province entered into the tripartite agreement with Shoal Lake First Nation 40 the city has remained steadfast in the objective to promote sustainable economic development for Shoal Lake First Nation 40. This includes recognition that all weather road access is key to that sustainable economic development and this clear intent has been stated in every adopted budget since 2012. Mayor Bowman remains committed to Freedom Road. Along with the province, through minister [Kevin] Chief, we urged the federal government to show their commitment as well. Mayor [Bowman] is pleased to learn the newly elected prime minister has indicated support for this project.

The City of Winnipeg's 2015 adopted capital budget includes investment of $2M into the Falcon River Diversion Bridge, which is a key requirement of the Freedom Road project. The 2016 budget will include, for council's consideration, continued investment into the all-weather road for Shoal Lake First Nation 40, and [Mayor Bowman] will support that proposal throughout the 2016 budget process.

With files from CBC Manitoba

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