After years in the planning stages, building a permanent road to the James Bay Coast is getting closer to being a reality.

An environmental assessment is underway on a few possible routes for the road, which would run from somewhere on Highway 11, between Smooth Rock Falls and Hearst, up to the communities on the coast.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on the planning to this point, with the bill for the actual road expected to run between $500 and $700 million.

James Bay Cree like Peter Lazarus have heard talk of an all-season road to the south for so long, they don't even pay attention any more.

"I don't know if I'm going to see it. It's been years now," he said.

Pros and cons

Gloria Wesley, a Kashechewan band member currently living in Kapuskasing, says spending money on that road would save people lots of money on groceries "but that's the only reason I would agree with the all season road."

Wesley and others worry about Cree culture and language, that's been protected by the remoteness of their communities.

Just as isolation has its good and bad sides, so would suddenly being connected with the rest of the world. 

Jonathan Solomon

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon (Erik White/CBC)

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon worries that drugs, alcohol and the social problems that come with them would become more prevalent if a road was built to the south.

"I know there's going to be social issues. Drug trafficking ... are we going to have situations where young people are running away from home?"

Solomon says it's important to start discussing how to control those issues, as well as how hunting, fishing, forestry and mining activity will be controlled in the James Bay lowlands.

"Because there has to be a process," Solomon said.

"Who's going to be policing the territory once it's open? Because it's going to be an open season."

All season road to the James Bay

Some of the possible routes for an all-season road to the James Bay Coast identified in a pre-feasibility study. (Mushkegowuk council )