The owner of Bannon's gas bar on the Fort William First Nation says extending the closure of the James St. swing bridge will hurt his business.
But Walter Bannon says he agrees with Thunder Bay city council's decision to reject CN Rail's proposals for reopening the bridge to vehicles — even though he continues to hear from frustrated customers.
“Well, I can't really open a bridge, but they are not happy and, especially when you have some traffic jams and some accidents, it really presents some challenges and problems for them and we hear them here.”
Bannon added he has laid off staff and shortened the gas bar hours since the bridge closed following a fire last year, resulting in lost sales.
But he noted the city is doing the right thing.
“My thoughts have been all along that this is … CN's problem. This is not the city's [problem], this is not Fort William's [problem].”
Safety concerns on Hwy 61
The Chief of the Fort William First Nation agreed. Georjann Morriseau said the messaging has been clear that CN Rail should fix the James Street Swing Bridge.
On Tuesday the city announced it will now proceed with a complete legal review of the agreement between the municipality and CN.
"I think is within their right to do so,” she said.
“Obviously, the support … from the community says that they continue to pressure CN to hopefully adhere to that agreement."
Morriseau added her concern now is the extra time it will take to complete the legal review.
As the waiting continues, she said a study should be done to look at improving safety along Highway 61, which is now the only access point from the city to the First Nation.
Impact on local business suppliers
Meanwhile, the lack of access troubles business owners like Bannon, who said he's heard some other business owners' insurance has gone up because it now takes fire and emergency crews longer to get to the community.
Other businesses face increased costs because of the longer route now required to get to the First Nation, he said.
The longer closure and the impact on his business will continue to have an impact on suppliers in Thunder Bay too.
"We don't get our supplies out here, we have to use the local suppliers in the city of Thunder Bay,” Bannon said.