The recent blast of cold weather across northern Ontario has allowed several First Nations to open their winter roads.
Twenty-four communities now have roads that are open to at least partial loads, according to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, while only seven, including Eabametoong, Marten Falls and Webequie, have roads that remain under construction.
The recently opened winter road to Muskrat Dam First Nation allowed leaders to bring a back-up generator into the community, which suffered a near-catastrophic loss of power early Monday morning.
The chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, who expects to officially open the road into the community on Monday, said this year’s winter road season is similar to last year’s, when delays due to warm weather caused NAN’s Grand Chief to describe the situation as a “developing crisis.”
But this year, Donny Morris says, his community is prepared; he’s arranging to truck in everything the community needs in a span of three to four weeks.
“We cannot take for granted that we will have this coldness we are starting to have now. Because come March, usually that’s when the weather turns around,” Morris said. “I have key players, employees, staff, directors… monitoring and getting things ready … agreements done and payments made so that we don’t have to worry about those things.”
Not only did the winter road go in late last year due to warm weather, but KI also closed the road early due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
It succeeded in getting about three quarters of its needed supplies into the community before that happened, he added, including building materials for a new school. But it did not receive all of the fuel it needed, and it’s been flying in fuel by air since December.
Lindsey Jupp, an environmental technologist with Matawa First Nations Management, agrees with Morris that the winter road season has mirrored last year’s in terms of the delays due to warm weather.
“It was a very warm start to the season. I’d say we were at least a month behind in starting,” Jupp said. “There’s been a lot of issues at the crossings this year just trying to get them frozen and stable enough for heavy enough loads to pass.”
Typically, at least a couple of communities have light traffic moving on their roads around Christmas time, Jupp said. This year, that didn’t happen until February, although she said the desire to limit traffic into communities due to COVID-19 also played a role in those delays.
The manager of Nibinamik First Nation said COVID protocols were the main reason that his community’s winter road, which opened to full loads last weekend, was later opening this year.
Nibinamik requires anyone entering the community to produce a negative COVID-19 test, Walter Oskineegish said.
The community is also asking truckers to practice social distancing and unload their own shipments if they can in order to minimize contact with community members.