Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation votes in support of $15.3M highway interchange

The Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation hopes the project will spur development on the reserve near Antigonish.

Residents hope project will spur development on reserve near Antigonish

Members of the Paq'tnkek Mi'kmaw Nation near Antigonish smile after the vote on Thursday evening. (Paq'tnkek Mi'kmaw Nation)

A $15.3-million highway interchange project near Antigonish, N.S., is one step closer to fruition after residents of the Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation voted in favour of surrendering land for the project on Thursday evening.

Ninety-six per cent of those who cast ballots supported the project. Voter turnout was 67.4 per cent, with 277 of 411 eligible voters participating.

"It was a historic day yesterday," said Rose Paul, the band's director of land and economic development. "Last night's vote was amazing. Definitely the people have spoken, and it was Decision Day for Paqtnkek."

The Paqtnkek First Nation is located between Heatherton and Tracadie, about 25 kilometres east of Antigonish.

Highway 104 divides the reserve into two pieces. Ever since the highway was built in the 1960s, residents have not been able to easily access about 200 hectares to the south of the highway.

High hopes

Advocates say this project will change that.

They hope the interchange, bridges and new connector roads will pave the way for more homes as well as commercial and retail development.

"The community is ready to grow," said Paul. "They really want to see it change and improve the socioeconomics in our community. They believe this highway project and having access to the highway property definitely will be the key."

The estimated $15.3-million project would build a diamond interchange, a bridge and connecting roads. (Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation)

The band will surrender about 27 hectares for the province to build the interchange on, and it will receive $2.3 million in compensation for the land and the relocation of several houses.

The project could not move forward without community approval to transfer land from the reserve to the federal government. Reserve lands are administered through the federal government and are protected by the Indian Act, which also spelled out the requirements of Thursday's vote.

The next step, Paul said, will be to designate land near the highway for economic development. The band hopes to develop its own businesses and create partnerships with existing businesses.