OTTAWA -- Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is putting the finishing touches on a proposal to solve its road access and water woes, Chief Erwin Redsky said Tuesday.

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OTTAWA -- Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is putting the finishing touches on a proposal to solve its road access and water woes, Chief Erwin Redsky said Tuesday.

In an interview with the Free Press, Redsky said the First Nation was in meetings Tuesday hammering out a proposal that includes costs that could permanently replace the aging ferry that provides the only access for cars to and from the reserve.

The proposal will be submitted to Ottawa.

The ferry failed an inspection by Transport Canada last week, prompting the band to declare a state of emergency. The band is trying to repair the ferry.

'We have a long-term solution we hope (Ottawa) can be part of'‐ Shoal Lake 40 chief Erwin Redsky

But the First Nation, which was cut off from the mainland a century ago with the construction of an aqueduct to send water to the Winnipeg, needs a permanent solution, Redsky said.

"We have a long-term solution we hope (Ottawa) can be part of," Redsky said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt was on the defensive over the situation in question period Tuesday. NDP MP Carol Hughes demanded Valcourt commit to help the reserve now.

"Will the minister intervene immediately?" Hughes asked.

Valcourt said the government is working with Health Canada to ensure the residents have access to medical services, and the emergency management team has been in "constant communication with them."

This ferry to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is no longer in use after it failed to pass inspection. The community is cut off from the mainland.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

This ferry to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation is no longer in use after it failed to pass inspection. The community is cut off from the mainland.

But Valcourt said he has not received an official request for assistance.

"We're going to continue to offer our assistance if the community needs it," Valcourt said.

Redsky said he hoped to have a proposal ready for submission by the end of the day Tuesday.

The federal, provincial and city governments are in talks with Shoal Lake to plan a permanent all-weather access road estimated to cost $30 million.

Shoal Lake has been under a boil-water advisory for almost 18 years. It can't build a water-treatment plant because it is on an island, and it has serious problems with sewage and garbage disposal.

The 15.2-metre-wide diversion channel built to provide Winnipeg's water supply created a man-made island and left Shoal Lake's residents cut off from the mainland. In the winter, residents use an ice road, but once the ice melts, the only access is by ferry.

Shoal Lake is 155 kilometres east of Winnipeg, just across the Manitoba-Ontario border. About 260 people live there, although there are 600 band members.

This winter, city and provincial taxpayers paid for a winter road across the lake to the First Nation. The two levels of government are working with Shoal Lake 40 on a permanent link, dubbed Freedom Road.

The Council of Canadians issued a statement Thursday to put pressure on the city, province and federal government to push harder on Freedom Road.

-- with files from Alexandra Paul

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca