OTTAWA -- The Manitoba government formally asked Ottawa Wednesday for help to expedite construction of an all-weather road into Island Lake.
Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson met with federal Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan on Parliament Hill, in part to ask Ottawa to partner on building a permanent road to the four Island Lake communities.
At the same time, Ernie Gilroy, head of the East Side Road Authority, met with bureaucrats from the federal department of infrastructure to discuss the project, which includes roads to other communities east of Lake Winnipeg.
Robinson said he is encouraged by the meetings. "The minister and I have agreed the east-side road has got to be put on the radar screen of the federal government."
Robinson said the all-weather road has been raised with the federal government in letters and Premier Greg Selinger has raised the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper directly. However, until Wednesday, the province had not made a formal request.
A spokeswoman for Duncan said she does not comment on private meetings with the minister. She said any request for an all-weather road will be handled by Infrastructure Canada.
Manitoba Conservative MP Shelly Glover, the parliamentary secretary for Indian Affairs, was also at the meeting. Robinson said she is "keenly aware" of the issues facing the Island Lake region. "I was very impressed with the level of knowledge Shelly Glover possesses."
Island Lake reserves, about 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, are among the most neglected communities in Manitoba. The absence of running water in half the region's homes was highlighted recently in a Free Press series.
The communities are accessible only by air for about 11 months of the year. For about a month, a winter road built over frozen muskeg allows trucks to bring in major supplies.
An all-weather road from Norway House would make it less expensive to bring in supplies year-round -- including water piping and tanks to get running water into more homes.
Robinson said the province has committed $93 million this year and $75 million a year for the next 15 years to build permanent roads east of Lake Winnipeg -- a total of $1.2 billion. The road into Island Lake and neighbouring communities is expected to cost $1.4 billion to build, but the whole east-side road network will add up to more than $2 billion.
The chiefs of the four Island Lake communities -- Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake -- held a news conference Monday calling on Ottawa to help with construction costs to build the road more quickly.
Last week, Gilroy released the proposed route that would link Norway House to the four communities of Island Lake and three northern Cree communities. It was chosen from 10 options after extensive research and consultation with the communities.