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'Mother Nature' making it tough for James Bay winter roads

This time of year it's a lot easier to get around Ontario's far north, thanks to winter roads — but those who build these transportation routes out of ice and snow say it's getting harder as winters get warmer.

About $2 million spent on winter roads that run between Attawapiskat and Smooth Rock Falls

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      The CBC's Erik White was in the far north recently. This time of year, it's a little easier to get to the James bay Coast thanks to roads made of snow and ice. We heard all about Erik's time travelling these winter roads. 7:42

      This time of year it's a lot easier to get around Ontario's far north, thanks to winter roads — but those who build these transportation routes out of ice and snow say it's getting harder as winters get warmer.

      This year, a lack of snow and wonky weather in general, saw both the 170 km Wetum Road that runs south from Moose Factory and the ice road that runs along the James Bay Coast from Moosonee to Attawapiskat, delay opening until late January.

      Peter Wesley, who manages the Wetum Road for Moose Cree First Nation, told CBC News there was so much pressure from the public that crews worked around the clock to get it ready.

      "They were encouraged and they gave us assurance that they were willing to work 24/7, recognizing that the community really enjoys the road and needs it," Wesley said.
      Peter Wesley looks after the Wetum Road for Moose Cree First Nation. He points to the North French River, which some band members are concerned could become polluted now that it's part of the winter road. (Erik White/CBC)

      It was a similar story for the ice road running along the James Bay coast, between Moosonee and Attawapiskat.

      Operations manager Wally Turner said this was one of the latest openings ever for what he calls "the cadillac" of winter roads.

      "We see a lot of climate change up here and every year we're getting later and later in opening our road," he said.

      The shorter winter road season has many on the James Bay saying it's time to get serious about building an all-season road, but that idea has been on the drawing board for decades. 

      A permanent road is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, while about $2 million in public money is invested in these two winter roads every season.

      The Wetum Road has a budget of about $1 million, split between Moose Cree First Nation and the provincial and federal governments, while the James Bay road receives $1 million in government funding, but also receives an undisclosed amount from private companies working in the area.

      Video: Crossing a river on the Wetum Road

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