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Leaders test highway
Transportation minister and MLA take road trip

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 7, 2012

Leaders from three Deh Cho communities met with David Ramsay, the territorial minister of Transportation, as he observed the state of highways in the Deh Cho.

NNSL photo/graphic

David Ramsay, right, the minister of the Department of Transportation, experienced the condition of Highway 7 first-hand while travelling with Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche on Friday. - photo courtesy Kevin Menicoche

On Friday, Ramsay travelled from Fort Liard to Fort Simpson on the Liard Highway with Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche.

Harry Deneron', Acho Dene Koe First Nation chief, said talking to Ramsay about the highway's condition during the Minister's first stop in Fort Liard was his primary concern.

The highway keeps deteriorating and the territorial government doesn't have any money to put towards it, said Deneron on May 31.

"I know he's broke. I know I'm talking to an empty box," said Deneron referring to Ramsay's department.

Deneron said he planned to propose the GNWT ask the federal government for funds to fix the highway from Fort Liard to at least as far as the junction for the access road to the Prairie Creek Mine. The highway needs to be brought to a proper service level before the mine goes into production, he said.

Deneron said the ore trucks the mine will use to move its mineral concentrate are worse than logging trucks.

"If you are stuck behind one of those trucks after a snowfall you'll never get by," he said.

Deneron said once Acho Dene Koe First Nation finishes its land claim even more companies, including those from the oil, gas and logging industries, will be entering the area and using the highway.

Speaking in Fort Simpson the following day, Ramsay said the territorial government doesn't have the funds to repair the highway. It would take in excess of $200 million to rehabilitate and reconstruct the road, he said.

Ramsay said the federal government has been good in the past with creating programs the territorial government can partner on to obtain funding for work on highways.

Priority for funding

There are currently no infrastructure programs of that nature, but Ramsay said he's hopeful that another one will be developed. Highway 7 would be a priority for any funding received, he said.

Meanwhile, Ramsay said the GNWT has to identify capital funding on an annual basis for the highway. Finding that money is important for both residents and tourists, he said.

"There's a direct link to tourism and the state of that highway," said Ramsay.

This year there is $1.3 million budgeted for Highway 7 that has been carried over from last year. The exact work on the highway that the money will be used for hasn't been identified yet.

Elsewhere in the Deh Cho, a total of $4.7 million in capital funding is slated for Highway 1, including $2.7 million carried over from last year.

The money will be used for multiple projects including reconstructing the stretch between kilometres 401 and 411 from Checkpoint towards Jean Marie River with the goal of eventually chipsealing it in 2013 or 2014.

While in Fort Simpson, Ramsay met with Chief Tim Lennie of Pehdzeh Ki First Nation. Lennie wants to find ways to partner with the Department of Transportation and obtain highway contracts in order to build capacity for the community of Wrigley.

Ramsay committed to going to Wrigley at the end or August or early September to meet with the band.

Ramsay also met with Fort Simpson leaders and business people during an evening meeting. Mayor Sean Whelly was one of the people in attendance.

Whelly said the village's main concerns were ensuring the street light project on the highway continued, raising awareness for the need for a highway rescue vehicle and making sure the section of Highway 1 maintained by contractors is as well maintained as the section looked after by the department.

Ramsay said he would look into trying to continue to fund the project to place street lights on the highway leading towards the Four Mile turnoff, said Whelly.

Approximately five to six lights have been put in place each year for the past two years with the Department of Transportation is subsidizing the cost.

It will take approximately two more years to install all the necessary lights, Whelly said.

Ramsay said discussions are on going between his department, the Department of Health and Social Services and Municipal and Community Affairs over highway rescue vehicles. The Fort Simpson Volunteer Fire Department looks after hundreds of kilometres of highway and needs a dedicated vehicle for that work, Whelly said.

On the issue of the variance in conditions on Highway 1 between Fort Simpson and Redknife River and from there to the Fort Providence junction, Ramsay said a new contract that is being awarded will allow the successful contractor to do more maintenance work, said Whelly.

In the past it seemed there wasn't enough money set aside in the contract for the maintenance of the Fort Simpson side of the highway, he said.

Other issues that were raised included when more chipseal will be applied to Highway 1 and the need to do it in good weather so money isn't wasted, said Whelly.

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