Engineer says Kashechewan relocation to cost between $500M and $800M

Efforts are being made to ensure the relocation of the remote James Bay community of Kashechewan, Ont., is community driven.

One site being considered is approximately 30 kilometres up Albany River on a higher plateau

New homes are being built in Kashechewan, Ont., for people returning from flood evacuations. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Efforts are being made to ensure the relocation of the remote James Bay community of Kashechewan, Ont., is community driven. 

The First Nation signed a new agreement with the federal and provincial governments on March 31 to consider moving the reserve to higher ground. 

One of the sites being looked at for the community's new home is about 30 kilometres up the Albany River on a plateau with trees three feet in diameter, according to an engineering consultant who has worked with the First Nation for almost 20 years.  

"That tells you that the river didn't hit them," said Nabil Batrouny, a project management professional for Northern Logistics.

"They didn't grow that big overnight."

An outside contractor could move the reserve at a cost of approximately $800 million within two years, Batrouny said.

'Benefit of the First Nation is not just work'

If the First Nation does the work and utilizes it's own equipment, Batrouny estimates the price tag would be closer to $500 million.

He estimates a community led process would take longer than a contractor's, but it would create spinoff jobs and help the economy. 
The new homes in Kashechewan, Ont., can be moved to another location in the event the reserve moves to higher ground. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"The idea is to have the First Nation benefit from this as much as possible," Batrouny said.

"The benefit of the First Nation is not just work. It's training to help sustainability."

Talk of relocation is taking place just as annual preparations are underway to evacuate people in Kashechewan from the threat of spring flooding. 

Emergency crews on standby for another evacuation

"Because of the elevation there, the water comes in fairly quickly," emergency coordinator Gerry Demeules said.

"If it happens in the middle of the night, it's fairly scary for residents ... The airport runway is the first thing to get flooded, so how do you get out of the community if you don't have an airport runway?"

Demeules is on standby waiting to airlift people into his town of Kapuskasing, Ont.

There are already 200 Kashechewan residents in Kapuskasing waiting to return to the First Nation once new homes are built. 

"Once they go back home or once they're ready to leave, just the thank you they give us and the friendships that we make makes it worthwhile every year just to help out," Demeules said. 

"Kashechewan's pretty special to us."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: