Manitoba

Northern communities call for state of emergency over roads

Native leaders say nine northern Manitoba communities cannot get in food and other supplies in because the mild temperatures have made it dangerous to use ice roads.

Native leaders say nine northern Manitoba communities cannot get in food and other supplies in because the mild temperatures have made it dangerous to use ice roads.

Sixteen thousand residents the north of the province depend on winter roads, built over ice, to transport food, gas, medicine and building supplies.

This winter, the warm weather has thinned ice to less than half of its safe thickness.

"We're down to about a day-and-a-half supply, and we're almost out of heat and oil," says Gary Casey, manager of the Mikisew Store. "If the weather turns cold, it would be real critical."

The supplies that do make it north have to be flown, which means prices for most items have gone through the roof: "It costs one dollar for one potato, $11 for four litres of milk," says Vera Mitchell, Chief of Poplar River First Nation. "This is common."

Area chiefs want the province to declare a state of emergency, which would bring relief money and resources.

• Permanent road needed, say chiefs •

For now, Manitoba Transportation is building a 225-km temporary winter road across the top of Lake of Winnipeg, and looking at the availability of moving in fuel tanks on sleighs.

The province has also expanded Island Lake airport, but only for one area, and it's only effective for shipping smaller cargo.

"We still need to haul our heavy building materials and necessities in," point out Chief Darcy Wood of Garden Hill First Nation, which is closest to the Island Lake airport.

In 1997, the Island Lake region suffered a similar crisis with winter roads. In that case, the province chipped in to cover some losses, estimated at over $15 million.

According to the chiefs, the only real, long-term solution is to build a permanent road from the base of Lake Winnipeg to the Island Lake communities, at a cost estimated at $250 million.

Provincial officials say the government is considering the idea.

now