Winter roads to northern Ontario First Nations destroyed by warm weather
Remote First Nations rely on winter roads for bulk deliveries of food, fuel and building supplies
Unseasonably warm winter temperatures may be a blessing for cold weather haters, but they're a curse for remote First Nations that rely on ice and heavy snow-pack to build winter roads.
As of Friday, none of the roads connecting 20 remote communities in northern Ontario was open to commercial traffic and only about half a dozen were open for personal use. The only other way in or out of the First Nations is by airplane.
Sandy Lake First Nation, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, closed its road to all vehicles on Friday after its maintenance crew nearly got stuck.
"The road had melted and they were falling through to the ground," said Lisa Crow, who oversees the road construction as chief executive officer with the Sandy Lake Community Development Services. "They had the groomer that came with the truck and it had to pull them out along the way to make it back home."
People were disappointed when the road was closed, especially those who use it to travel outside the community to cut wood to sell for income in the winter, according to Kennedy Fiddler, the president of Sandy Lake Community Development Services.
'You're going to get stuck'
"We had to tell them, you're going to get stuck out there," Fiddler said. "There's water patches all over. It just deteriorated and we're not even getting any good weather reports for the next week."
By good weather, Fiddler means freezing temperatures. He and Crow estimate it could take up to a month, if and when a cold snap settles in, to repair the road for commercial use.
"This is the set back almost to day one," Fiddler said.
This winter Sandy Lake needs about 200 full truck loads of goods such as diesel fuel, gas, groceries, Crow said.
If the roads don't open, some things are flown in, but others, such as building supplies for a new nursing station in the community might not make to the community at all.
Flying increases the cost of everything, including gas, Crow said.
On Friday, gas in Sandy Lake was selling for $2.25 per litre, she said.