Thunder Bay

Project to build permanent road to northern Ontario First Nation 'the right move' chief says

The chief of a northern Ontario First Nation says an ongoing project to build an all-season road to the community will help in many ways.

Bruce Achneepineskum says community working on road project for about 15 years

Bruce Achneepineskum is the chief of Marten Falls First Nation. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The chief of a northern Ontario First Nation says an ongoing project to build an all-season road to the community will help in many ways.

Marten Falls, which is about 300 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is in the midst of the provincial environmental assessment process to construct a thoroughfare that will link the remote First Nation to the provincial highway system north of Nakina.

"There's a lot of socio-economic benefits that would derive from having an all-weather road to the community," said Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, adding that those would include lowering the cost of freight, making it easier for community members to travel and better positioning the First Nation to take advantage of various economic development opportunities in the forestry, mining and tourism sectors.

Achneepineskum said it will also make it easier for community members who live away from the First Nation to return, should they wish.

"It would really help them coming back into the community and establishing a home here and living here in the community, rather than ... trying to find a home in urban centres."

Currently, Marten Falls is only accessible by air or, in the winter months, Ontario's ice road network.

The community has been working toward an all-season road for about 15 years, Achneepineskum said.

The plans also include a potential second phase that could link the access road to the Ring of Fire, but Achneepineskum said the current environmental assessment only covers the road from the highway to Marten Falls.

The environmental assessment is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2020, after which the community can proceed with engineering studies and construction, he added.

"It feels great," Achneepineskum said of the project's progress. "We feel that this is the right move for the First Nation."

He added that working on such a project is also important as it keeps the community connected to any potential development in the Ring of Fire.

"We have a lot at stake with facilitating good-faith discussions with Ontario and that's what we hope to do," Achneepineskum said.

"Keep on discussing what happens when ... mining development occurs in the region and, as a First Nation that has those significant rights and the interests in the Ring of Fire area, we want to be involved in all steps."

now