An all-weather road to Wollaston Lake is closer to becoming a reality, according to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Highways.
During a question-and-answer event with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Saskatchewan government officials said they had prepared a package to send to the federal government, asking for funding for an all-weather road to Wollaston Lake. Dough Wakabayashi, from the Ministry of Highways, confirmed the province sent off packages to the federal government requesting funding for the all-weather road.
“Right now we’re waiting to hear back from the federal government on the application we’ve put forward,” Wakabayashi said, adding federal money would provide the bulk of the funding for the proposed project. “The provincial funding is available if we get a positive response from the federal government.”
Hatchet Lake and Wollaston Lake are accessible by air year-round, and an ice road connects the communities to the rest of the province between October and May, depending on when the freeze and thaw occur. In the spring and summer months, community members rely on a small barge to travel and bring groceries and other goods to their homes.
Wakabayashi said it would be premature to announce how much money the province set aside for the all-weather road, but noted the dollars would be based on engineering costs and how much money the federal government is ready to set aside.
He couldn’t provide estimates as to how long the federal government would take to respond to the province's request for funds.
Steve McLellan, with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, said his organization has pushed for the new road's construction for some time.
“The Saskatchewan Chamber, through our Northern Business Task Force, has been advocating for more highway investment into the north,” McLellan said. “The province has committed dollars. They’re waiting for the feds to commit the dollars as well.”
McLellan said the benefits of an all-weather road start in Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake, and will make them feel connected to the rest of the province. An all-weather road would also allow resources, goods and services to better flow to the North.
A long struggle
While he couldn’t speak on specifics yet, Bart Tsannie, the Hatchet Lake Denesuline Nation Chief, weighed in on the decision, saying the communities have lobbied for such infrastructure for almost 30 years.
“If the funding is committed to our all-season roads, I’d be very happy,” Tsannie said.
Previously, representatives of the Prince Albert Grand Council and the Hatchet Lake Development Partnership had estimated the project would cost roughly $1 million per kilometre constructed, or a total of $88 million. Roughly 14 kilometres of the road have already been constructed.
During a tour of Hatchet Lake in February, residents and leaders stressed the need for the all-weather road. Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership’s CEO Anne Robillard told paNOW having a road into the community would help local companies reach their true potential.
Prince Albert Grand Council Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie previously told paNOW there was a “shovel-ready” plan in place, and both the grand council and the Denesuline Nation were hoping construction would begin this fall. Tsannie said a road would help reduce the cost of living in the community, where plane tickets to fly to Saskatoon can cost around $1,100 dollars for a return trip.
Wakabayashi could not say exactly when construction would start, though he noted a fall start date was unlikely based on the unique construction season in northern Saskatchewan.
“It’s our expectation ... that the First Nations in the area would play a very significant role in delivering the project,” Wakabayashi said.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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