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Freedom Road inches closer

City councillors to tour Shoal Lake 40

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2015 (550 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At least seven Winnipeg city councillors will visit Shoal Lake 40 First Nation next week as government officials figure out how to fund the reserve's new all-weather access road.

That could include expanding the mandate of the East Side Road Authority, allowing cash from the province, the city and Ottawa to flow through the arm's-length agency that has a track record of working with First Nations, Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday.


Shoal Lake 40 First Nation residents currently use boats in the summer and an ice road in the winter to access the reserve.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation residents currently use boats in the summer and an ice road in the winter to access the reserve.

The road's design study is nearly done, and Shoal Lake 40 expects to have a detailed cost estimate in early November. The preliminary cost of the road was pegged at $30 million.

The city and province long ago pledged to each chip in one-third of the funds, but the federal government refused.

But Liberal leader and prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised this summer a Liberal government would build the so-called Freedom Road. Now, with all levels of government beginning work on spring budgets, the business of creating a patchwork of funding for Freedom Road is ramping up.

Local musician Steve Bell, one of the organizers of the Friends of Shoal Lake 40 coalition of churches and advocacy groups, has launched a petition to put pressure on councillors to make sure the city's contribution to the road appears in the spring budget. The coalition's earlier petition to the federal government earned more than 7,300 signatures.

On Friday, at least seven councillors, including Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Shawn Dobson (St. Charles) and Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston), are travelling to the reserve for a tour and visit.

Shoal Lake 40's reserve was rendered an island nearly 100 years ago. when the city built the dike, canal and aqueduct that pumped clean water from the lake 150 kilometres to Winnipeg. For generations, Shoal Lake 40 struggled with its island isolation, using boats in summer and an ice road in winter to get back and forth from the reserve. Since 1997, the band has been under a boil-water advisory, in part because the federal government will not build a new water treatment plant until a road is constructed.

The 30-kilometre project, which would follow roughly the route of the winter road, would link the reserve to the Trans-Canada Highway. It would likely take at least two years to build.

"We want Freedom Road built as fast as possible and we want to do it in partnership with Shoal Lake 40," said Selinger. He said expanding the mandate of the East Side Road Authority would probably require legislation, but the idea makes sense.

The authority is five years into a 30-year project to build a network of roads connecting more than a dozen First Nations on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Instead of automatically awarding construction contracts to the lowest bidder, the authority's mandate is to make sure each reserve benefits economically from the construction tenders through joint ventures, training programs or the hiring of local companies, which in turn boosts entrepreneurship and skills among residents.

"They know how to do respectful partnerships with First Nations," said Selinger of the East Side Road Authority. "We think this is one strong, possible way to move forward."

Shoal Lake 40 has already had several meetings with the authority to discuss how the partnership would work. Ideally, the band would like to begin preliminary work on the road -- clearing brush, moving in equipment, training local workers -- this winter.

Federal funds may come from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and its capital budget for reserves, but it could also come from the Liberals' promised national infrastructure fund, which could take more time.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 2:04 PM CDT: Target added.

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