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Late start for ice road trucking impacts remote First Nations

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

By Claire Cudahy, Northern Sun News

Shorter ice road seasons due to wonky weather conditions are dramatically impacting the lives of people in remote First Nations, says Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.

Day is calling upon the government to order a “remote First Nation Climate Impact study” to examine how climate change is affecting Indigenous people in isolated locations.

“Climate change has dramatically reduced the length of time winter roads are accessible causing shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies and increasing the need to fly-in supplies. This results in higher living costs and potential decreases in quality of life and health,” stated Day.

According to the Chiefs of Ontario, there are 31 remote communities in Ontario that will not have ice roads by the usual mid-January target.

In a press release, the Chiefs of Ontario asserted that the period of time during which winter roads are available has been drastically reduced in the last decade.

“What was once a season of 50 – 60 days has been as low as 20 days,” reads the release.

Mark Kohaykewych, president of Polar Industries Ltd., a Winnipeg-based trucking company that utilizes ice roads in Northern Alberta, Northern Manitoba, and Northwestern Ontario, says that this year they have gotten a late start on the season due to the weather.

“This year we are getting a little nervous because work that should have been done already on the ice roads has not been done,” said Kohaykewych. “You can’t get some of the equipment out to clear the snow until Mother Nature has frozen a lot of the muskegs and swamps up. That’s the biggest concern. Yes, the lakes are a concern too, but the biggest concern is if the muskeg is frozen under the snow because it acts as an insulator.”

If the current cold snap continues, Polar Industries should be able to get bigget equipment out soon to start clearing the snow to prepare the roads, noted Kohaykewych.

Kohaykewych estimated that the trucks will be able to start making deliveries in mid-February or mid-March. Usually the season lasts between six to eight weeks, but Freelander has experienced some years with as little as three.

“Last year was a record year for us,” said Kohaykewych, adding that his company delivered around 300 loads to Pikangikum alone with supplies for the construction of the new school.

This year, warm temperatures followed by a dumping of snow created “just about the worst conditions possible.”

“It’s not the thickness of the ice necessarily it’s the type of ice. You want that clear, solid blue ice. Probably 30 to 36 inches. But if you get that fragile ice that’s mixed with snow, there isn’t much strength to it. It could be 48 inches thick and it’s not very strong at all,” explained Kohaykewych.

Kohaykewych said the company would begin with half loads and speak with Chiefs and councils to determine which necessities need to get in first.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the impact of climate change on First Nations is “worrying.”

“…We’ve got to build the kind of resilient infrastructure that will deal with the changing climate,” said Bennett. “We need to have everybody included in really assessing the need and then developing feasibility projects and proposals.”

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