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Fort William First Nation land issue 'not news' to CN Rail

An offer by Fort William First Nation to encourage CN Rail to quickly reopen the James Street bridge has instead halted negotiations.

CN delays negotiations on reopening James Street bridge over First Nation's 'complex questions'

CN Rail's James Street swing bridge connecting Fort William First Nation with Thunder Bay has been closed to vehicular traffic since October 2013. (Jody Porter/CBC)

An offer by Fort William First Nation to encourage CN Rail to quickly reopen the James Street bridge has instead halted negotiations.

The offer to deal with CN's "unauthorized use" of road allowances on the reserve was intended as an incentive to hurry-along the reopening of the James Street bridge, says Ian Bannon, Fort William First Nation's director of lands and property management. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The bridge is the most direct link between the First Nation and Thunder Bay. It has been closed to vehicles since a fire last October.

The First Nation wanted to provide "an extra benefit" to CN as the company considered reopening the bridge, according to Fort William's director of lands and property, Ian Bannon.

So it offered to "finalize and make things right" regarding a century-old concern about CN's use of road allowances on reserve land, he said.

"What we wanted to do was remind CN that Fort William is willing to do everything that it can to work cooperatively to resolve the entire matter," Bannon said.

'Complex questions'

CN's use of the road allowances is part of an outstanding land claim the First Nation has been negotiating for decades, he said.

"This is not news to CN," Bannon said.

But the railway responded as if it is. CN said Monday that Fort William's offer prevents it from responding in a timely way to the latest proposal by the city of Thunder Bay for reopening the bridge.

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs says he's "not happy" with CN's response to the latest proposal from the city for reopening the James Street Bridge. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

"At the last meeting, Fort William First Nation raised questions on CN's title for the first time in over 100 years," CN regional manager Lindsay Fedchyshyn said in an email to CBC News.

"While CN is confident in the quality of its title, these complex questions will require answers before CN can respond to the city's latest proposal," Fedchyshyn added.

'Trying to squeeze the little guy'

Thunder Bay's mayor said he is "not happy" with that response.

"They're hurting citizens on both sides of the bridge," Keith Hobbs said. "And, they don't seem to care too much about it. It all comes down to money for them."

Hobbs said he is worried the push to reopen the bridge will end up in an expensive trip to court, arguing the finer points of the 1906 agreement between the city and the railway that created the transportation link.

"I'm considering this as a legal file right now and having said that though, we haven't made a decision on whether we're going to push this through the courts or not," Hobbs said.

"You have a  big corporation that has deep pockets that are trying to squeeze the little guy."

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