Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad speaks to the area Transportation Committee and concerned citizens about the condition of the North Road.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad speaks to the area Transportation Committee and concerned citizens about the condition of the North Road.

North Road is holding Fort back

A meeting to discuss concerns about the North Road revealed the lack of funds for the highway may be limiting growth in Fort St. James.

A meeting to discuss concerns about the North Road revealed the lack of funds for the highway may be limiting growth in Fort St. James.

Twenty-five people gathered in the District of Fort St. James on a sunny Saturday to voice their concerns and while safety is still a concern for those living or working on the road, economic impacts were at the forefront, both now and in the future.

While the connector road to Mackenzie is still open to full weight capacity, the North Road is not, and conditions on the road are considered some of the worst residents on Puntzi Road have seen in over twenty years.

Mount Milligan Mine is contributing to keeping the connector road to Mackenzie open and passable during breakup, according to Scott Morrison, transportation committee representative for the mine.

The North Road, however, is a highway, not a forestry road, and therefore it is managed, maintained and funded by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Attendees at the meeting were very direct in putting their concerns forward, and Councillor Joan Burdeniuk opened the meeting with a strong statement for the community.

“We just have some significant concerns that the condition of the North Road is very much negatively impacting the the community of fort st. james’ ability to be economically viable within this area,” said Burdeniuk. “We want this addressed -it’s not acceptable, it’s not okay.”

Mount Milligan opening up their Environmental Assessment Certificate in order to change their load out facility to Mackenzieis influenced by their inability to haul on the North Road at 100 per cent year-round, according to Burdeniuk.

“I know we just get it done, it’s just our nature. we don’t complain a lot, we don’t whine a lot we never have,” said Burdeniuk. But she made it clear the community was no longer going to sit back and stay quiet about this problem any longer.

Mayor Rob MacDougall recalled the support the community gave when he was mayor previously for the construction of the connector, which cost $10.3 million, but there were also discussions at the same time that some upgrades would be looked at on the Fort St. James side to improve the road as Mount Milligan was developed.

“Today, nothing has been done,” said MacDougall. “There’s been absolutely nothing done with the substructure … there’s mud showing through in all areas … for a Class B highway that is completely unacceptable.”

He suggested with the years of resource extraction which has taken place on the road over the decades of its use, there should have been more than enough money to maintain the road properly.

“We’re not getting money back and as a result we’re losing an opportunity in our community in the way of the load out (ore shipping facility for the mine),” he said.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad agreed lost economic opportunity for the community due to the road would be a problem for him.

“That’s unacceptable in my mind,” he said. “Especially considering the 10.3 (million dollars) that was spent on a connector road to another community … but clearly there needs to be some investment on our side too.”

Creative solutions were discussed, such as the possibility of turning the North Road into a forest service road as well, instead of a highway, but then there were concerns this may negatively impact residents who live along the road.

Rustad was not optimistic any significant upgrades would be able to be done this year, as the ministry is still doing “catch-up” after money set aside for improvements to problem areas last year was used up due to the severe damage the road sustained.

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to get additional capital,” he said. “I would like to give a different answer, but I also want to be realistic.”

He did, however, give the community advice on how to help make a case for funding the improvements, even if they would not happen this year.

He advised the committee members to try and put forward a case giving a sense of the economic impact the poor road conditions is having or will have on the community and to summarize some of the safety concerns with numbers of accidents or incidents.

Rustad also clarified what has been done on the road recently and said this spring the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is doing testing on the road to put together a plan to strengthen it.

“I want to straighten the record out … there has been more than $3 million spent in the last number of years on strengthening that road over and above maintenance,” he said.