Petition for road
"Any help I can provide, I'd be more than happy to do so," says Mayor Peter Martselos.
The petition was circulated in November in the Alberta community about 100 km south of Fort Smith, and gathered 404 names.
"That's about 85-90 per cent of the adults in Fort Chipewyan," says Maureen Hanson, one of the petition's organizers.
The petition was sent to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. His office replied by letter, saying the petition was passed along to Alberta's Department of Transportation.
Martselos says an all-weather road would require a federal-provincial-territorial partnership, and would be expensive.
"I think it's practical," he adds.
Martselos notes a study about 15 years ago estimated the cost of an all-season road from Fort Smith to Fort McMurray at about $300 million.
The Fort Chipewyan petition was circulated by Hanson and her friend Brenda Bourque.
Currently, a winter road runs between Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan, and continues south to Fort McMurray.
However, Hanson says the winter road is unreliable, because of warmer winters in recent years. "It seems our winter road is always up in the air."
The road normally opens about Dec. 15 each year, depending on the weather.
However, about four years ago the winter road did not open at all because ice crossings on rivers could not be built.
That meant fuel and groceries had to be flown into Fort Chipewyan.
Hanson says a road north to Fort Smith would be much shorter than to Fort McMurray, plus it would be much less costly.
Going south would require crossing the Athabasca Delta, plus bridges over four or five rivers, making the price tag "exorbitant," she says.
A road to Fort Smith would require only one bridge over the Slave River.
She notes some Fort Chipewyan residents would also feel more comfortable going to Fort Smith, because of family connections and a similar lifestyle.
Hanson says road connections to Fort Chipewyan have been studied to death by the Alberta government.
"I don't want them to study it any more," she says. "I want them to say yes.