The resurrected topic of building a road south through Wood Buffalo National Park from Peace Point to Garden River, Alta. has stirred the pot at recent town council meetings in Fort Smith.
A letter from former mayor Peter Martselos was first put on the table at the town’s corporate services committee meeting May 7, asking for support in the proposed road project. It will go before Fort Smith town council for a final decision on May 21.
Martselos was the main driver of the 118-km road, which runs across both Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation land, decades ago when he first proposed it as president of the defunct Thebacha Road Society.
The project was defeated in 2005 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Mikisew had not been properly consulted.
According to Mayor Brad Brake, Martselos said both affected Alberta First Nations have been consulted about the project and are now on board.
The recommendation to approve the letter of support was carried at the corporate services committee meeting with a tight 4-3 vote and subsequently slid through at the committee of the whole last Tuesday with another 4-3 vote in favour of the motion.
Councillors Lou Sebert, Don Webb, Al Dumont and Ron Holtorf supported the motion at the committee of the whole. Opposed were Kevin Smith, Bob McArthur and Lynn Napier-Buckley.
Councillor Chris Westwell was absent.
“I urge council extreme caution in supporting this. Letters of support create expectations,” Smith said. “I would prefer that we wait until the Thebacha Road Society is actually formed with a board and we have some kind of proof that both Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are actually in favour of this…If we continue down this road, council should make sure it has all its ducks lined up.”
Napier-Buckley brought up a number of negative points about the road, noting that Aboriginal hunting lands and traditional traplines would be impacted.
She also made reference to fact that the NWT premier denied making any promise of money to Martselos to kickstart road plans, as discovered recently by The Journal (click for article).
“Unless I see something from the Mikisew Cree that says, ‘Yes, we’re okay with this,’ I can’t support this,” Napier-Buckley said. “This is supposed to be a winter road. We already have a winter road. It will not speed anything up and I don’t see any reason why we should be supporting it.”
Others were not so quick to dismiss the proposal.
“A letter of support just gives the individuals involved the opportunity to try to proceed,” Dumont said.
“It’s really just asking: can we open this book again and take a look?” Holtorf added.