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Keeping an ear on the Deh Cho

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Friday, March 9, 2007

FORT SIMPSON - Drivers in the Deh Cho can expect improvements to the area's roads this summer.

This year the stretch of Highway 1 from Checkpoint to Fort Simpson will have its chipseal redone, according to Kevin Menicoche, minister of transportation.

Roads were one of the topics that Menicoche, also the MLA for the Nahendeh, discussed during constituency meetings across the Deh Cho last week.

Motorists travelling from Fort Liard to the B.C. border will also see crews at work as the process of rebasing Highway 7 continues. Every 10-kilometres of rebased road costs approximately $5 million, said Menicoche at a meeting in Fort Simpson on March 1. Work will also be done to dig up some of the soft spots in the highway from Fort Liard to Checkpoint.

Less immediate plans for the Department of Transportation include working towards building a loop road in the territory, said Menicoche.

"It's slowly becoming a reality," he said.

The road would be based on the existing winter road system up the Mackenzie valley. In Inuvik the road would connect with the Dempster Highway. The plan is part of a goal to connect Canada from coast to coast to coast.

"It will be a long range plan," said Menicoche.

In the meantime, pressure will continue at the territorial level to get more money from the federal government for infrastructure such as roads to the resources and isolated communities, he said.

Menicoche's transportation update was only heard by the two participants at the Fort Simpson meeting, compared to five in Fort Liard on Feb. 26 and three in Nahanni Butte on Feb. 27.

Despite the low turnout in Fort Simpson, topics ranging from tourism to the environment were discussed.

Steven Allen questioned the government's plans for tourism.

"We're not capturing the tourism money," said Allen.

Allen said he knows people who have applied to government programs for funding but the money they receive is always less than they really need.

"It's never quite enough for them to be successful," said Allen.

The territories have the natural resources and the people who want to work, he said. Allen suggested that the federal government actively keeps the territory underdeveloped because they have better control over the NWT when it's struggling.

Father Bart van Roijen questioned Menicoche on plans for the environment, particularly what's being done to move communities away from such a heavy reliance on diesel.

The new budget is moving towards a green agenda, said Menicoche. Looking for alternative sources of energy is part of the plan.

"This is something we really have to consider," he said.

The budget also includes room for environmental programs targeted towards individuals. Incentives will be offered for replacing windows and doors and encouraging the move to hybrid vehicles. Awareness campaigns are also being planned, said Menicoche.

In both Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte access to adequate housing is a continuing concern, said Menicoche. Residents of Fort Liard also voiced concern about community policing and police being non-responsive.