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Winter roads stymied by warm weather

Of the 42 communities listed on the Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s winter road updates page, 20 had winter roads “under construction” as of Feb. 2.
Cat Lake First Nation

CAT LAKE – To call the winter road season a bust might be an exaggeration, but Cat Lake First Nation Chief Russell Wesley can’t call it a roaring success either.

The over-lake road to his remote community 180 kilometres northwest of Sioux Lookout has been shut down for more than a week, he said.

And that’s after having been operational for just a week or so in late January.

Even in that week of activity, the chief adds, no big rigs came to his First Nation with building supplies or other heavy loads. The ice road wasn’t strong enough to handle semis.

To add to those woes, a contractor sank a grader in muskeg near Cat Lake Road, Wesley said.

“There’s been not enough snow and not enough cold,” he said. “The situation is very dire.”

Cat Lake is not alone in its winter road situation. Of the 42 communities listed on the Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s (NAN) winter road updates page, 20 had winter roads “under construction” as of Feb 2. Another 11 winter roads were open to light or partial loads. Only one, North Caribou Lake, was categorized as open to full loads.

Colder weather is in the forecast for areas up north, but “not the kind of cold you build winter roads with,” climatologist Graham Saunders said Thursday.

Environment Canada’s forecast for Red Lake (as of Thursday afternoon) has lows of -13 or below for the next several days.

In Pickle Lake, the outlook is a tad colder: down to minus-17 Saturday and Sunday with daily highs of -11 or so. The Weather Network’s forecast for Fort Hope is similar.

The weather and its impact on winter road season was a topic at the NAN Chiefs Winter Assembly this week in Thunder Bay.

“While we’re enjoying the warm weather, we know it’s not good for the environment, it’s not good for our winter roads (and) those communities that still rely on the winter roads to transport their goods, their materials during these winter months,” NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler told Dougall Media.

Pikangikum First Nation, 100 kilometres north of Red Lake, has been bringing light loads but not big rigs across its winter road lately, band council member Richard Keeper said.

A couple of semis came to Pikangikum last month, he said, but now the winter road can’t handle heavy loads.

So, not a great winter road season so far?

“No,” said Keeper. “Not at all.”

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After working at newspapers across the Prairies, Mike found where he belongs when he moved to Northwestern Ontario.
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