Navigating this year’s winter road season
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
A recent blast of cold weather has helped jump-start this year’s winter roads season.
Sioux Lookout Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors member Christine Hoey said, “The winter roads opened later than normal. It was quite cold for that three week stretch, but now that it’s warmed up again, it’s a little tough to get the product in and out of the north. I know that some of the local businesses are a little frustrated with a short season. They are hoping that it stays cold in the evenings so that the winter roads can go on for a couple more weeks.”
The provincial government has invested to build and maintain 3,170 kilometers of temporary snow and ice roads for the 2020-21 winter season, connecting to 31 remote First Nation communities and the Town of Moosonee. According to NAN’s Winter Road Update, as of March 1, 17 out of the 31 winter roads connecting communities were under construction, nine were open to light loads, three were open to partial loads and two open for full loads. The seasonal snow and ice roads offer vital connections to all-season roads to bring in essential goods and services to these communities.
“Winter roads are a lifeline for remote communities, as they provide vital connections to all-season roads,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Minister of Indigenous Affairs in a January news release. “By providing multi-year funding, our government is reducing the administrative burden, supporting economic development and enabling our northern communities to plan more effectively for upcoming winter roads seasons.” The provincial government shared in their news release that weather permitting, the winter roads network that serves over 21,000 Ontarians, is open from about mid-January until the spring thaw.
Municipality of Sioux Lookout Economic Development Officer Vicki Blanchard shared, “The natural flow of goods and services comes from the west through Sioux Lookout to the Northern Communities. There are short timelines each year to access the Far North, which impacts Sioux Lookout.
“In addition to the challenges with the seasonal roads, the COVID-19 crisis adds to the challenges, as many northern communities are self-isolating to prevent the spread of the virus. This leads to a decrease in the supply of services and goods from Sioux Lookout.
“Hotels in Sioux Lookout are experiencing up to an 80 per cent reduction in visitors, plus our airport is experiencing similar declines in aircraft and passenger movements.”
Morgan Fuels owner Darrell Morgan said, “Some roads are not open yet. Overall, I would say we are three to four weeks behind schedule now. It’s definitely a slow year for sure.” He added that they were able to move into a few more communities last week. “But there are still communities that the roads are not open to at the present time,” he added. Morgan said that they would usually start moving their products to the northern communities around the last week of January. However, due to this year’s late winter roads season, it wasn’t until mid-February that they started the transport.
Morgan said, “Really the biggest hurdle that we’re dealing with, as is the rest of the world, is the whole pandemic and overcoming some of the challenges that is required for the screening, testing…to adhere to protocols, not only our own in-house protocols, but the protocols that the communities have established has been very challenging and just making sure that we’re adhering to proper procedures and PPE, that’s definitely had an impact on us this year, as it has on all businesses.”
Morgan said, “We’re just hoping that the weather stays cool for another five to six weeks and we can get as much work done as we can and do it as safely as we can, and make the best of the year that’s been put forward to us.” Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s (NAN) Winter Road Update is available at https://bit.ly/3bMEqLQ. NAN encourage all travellers to contact the First Nation for the most up-to-date information on the winter road status prior to traveling, including whether roads are open for travel as temporary closures do take place on the roads, even when at full load capacity.