To pave or not to pave

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You would think building a new road would be a straightforward issue. But when it concerns the extension of the James Bay Highway from Radisson to Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik, it’s a whole other story.

In late June, the Ministère des transport du Québec released a statement saying that the SNC-Lavalin/GENIVAR consortium had chosen to carry out a pre-feasibility study. The report will be an impact analysis of the project based on five components: energy and natural resources, social and cultural environment, economic development, environment and land management, and transport.

The ministry has asked that the report be delivered by November after which it will decide whether to start the preliminary design studies on the road.

A multi-government steering committee has already been formed which includes representatives from Quebec, Ottawa, Makivik, Whapmagoostui, Kuujjuarapik and Chisasibi.

But what are residents of this isolated community saying about having a road?

Whapmagoostui Chief Losty Mamianskum said that many of the Cree residents support the idea of a road to the community. Citing the high cost of living as a factor, he pointed to the fact that prices for consumer items would become more reasonable.

“Also the construction period is very short here. We have to rely on the barge to bring in material for housing and other projects, so an access road would enable us to extend the construction,” said Mamianskum.

He did, however, agree a road would bring in more challenges, but as he pointed out, they already exist in terms of the availability of alcohol and illegal drugs.

Yet not everyone is jumping up and down with joy in this northern community. Kuujjuarapik mayor Luke Inukpuk said the idea of a road is a two-sided issue. On the negative side, he feels certain individuals will use it to bring in more drugs and alcohol. “Some people will see it as an opportunity to make money and get rich. But it will cause problems and hassles.”

As for cheaper consumer prices, Inukpuk is skeptical. “It will depend on the transport company. If there is only one company, I doubt prices will drop. The company will fix the price, and as usual, we will not be able to say anything.”

Inukpuk said when Kuujjuarapik residents heard the news about the study, there was a mixed reaction. “There are a lot of questions. But it will be up to the bodies of government. Building a road is a very expensive undertaking. Even if it’s built, who will look after it? Who will pay for the maintenance?”

When questioned about the aspect of job creation, Inukpuk responded, “That was brought up by the Crees who said the road would create jobs. What that usually means is that people from out of town will get the jobs. I’ve seen it happen. They even bring in their own janitors.”

Though no road alignment has been defined for the project, Whapmagoostui resident and Nation columnist Sonny Orr pointed out that the question of a bridge over the La Grande River would have to be discussed. “You have to remember there is no bridge in Radisson, only a dyke. They would have to build one. At LG1, which is about 20km east of Chisasibi, there’s a dam that doubles as a bridge.”

Four years ago, Orr was involved in an earlier pre-feasibility study for the Whapmagoostui Eeyou Enterprises Development Corporation (WEEDCo). “Don’t forget most of the road would be built on Chisasibi traditional territory. We are just past the 55th parallel, about 50km north of it. So land-wise it would affect Chisasibi more than us.

“But it would affect us in different ways. If you look at the impact the Wemindji and Waskaganish roads had, we would probably have the same problems that those communities had. We would have more things to access and more places to drive to, but we would have more liabilities.”

Yet Mamianskum remains optimistic. “Hopefully, I will see a road in my lifetime. It would be great to visit the other communities on weekends.”

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