MAGNETAWAN FIRST NATION - As the four-laning of Highway 69 continues, so do negotiations with First Nation communities along the route.
Magnetawan First Nation continues to look at the environmental impacts of the highway after successfully having the province move the proposed route east 500 metres. Shawanaga First Nation is hoping to sit down with the province to discuss the highway project soon, but after a separate road issue is put to bed.
In the meantime, 102 kilometres of the two-lane Highway 69 conversion to the four-laned Highway 400 remains, between Carling Township and Sudbury.
Over the last 14 months, Magnetawan worked with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) on the route of the 11 kilometres of expanded highway that divides its land in half. The First Nation community itself lies to the west of the highway, and will have an interchange close to the community for continued access.
“We got the route where we wanted to, less impact for the habitats around - rattlesnakes and Species at Risk Act - so, we managed to move the highway,” said Anthony Laforge, Magnetawan First Nation director of lands and resources. “Right now we’ve assembled a Magnetawan First Nation negotiating committee that is now sitting down with the MTO, and now we’re dealing with the environmental assessments, and just putting all the logistics together with the surveys, exactly what they are going to need to build the highway with the new design.”
The negotiating committee, which includes an elder and a youth, has met with the province three times to date to discuss a traditional land use study of the highway route.
“A traditional land use study is a history of Magnetawan territory,” said Laforge. “It involves any traditional hunting grounds, any traditional trapping, any traditional medicines. It’s just to see what needs to be protected.”
The traditional land use study will highlight areas for protection from construction, including habitat for species at risk and areas of archeological importance. Once identified, the highway’s route would get altered slightly to protect the area. Completion of the traditional land use study, along with a hydrogeological study and legal survey, is expected in December, with monthly MTO and committee meetings scheduled.
With that underway, Magnetawan First Nation is turning to discussions about compensation. There’s no set dollar amount the community is looking for, said Laforge, but it is taking into consideration what other First Nations have received along the route to date.
The negotiating committee, he said, plans to meet with community members on the ideal compensation, which could include a land swap with the province.
“We’re just looking for the protection of our territory and the protection of the habitat first of all,” he said.
In all, Laforge said the First Nation and the province could be at the table for at least another year before there are signatures on the dotted line.
Shawanaga First Nation has spoken with the province about the four-laning of Highway 69, but hasn’t yet started negotiations, said Chief Mike Pawis. Before that can happen the community wants to settle the matter of compensation for Shebeshekong Road, which at one time was Highway 69.
In all, Pawis said it could take a couple years before construction on the Highway 400 expansion north from Carling Township can begin.
The province is dividing the remaining section of Highway 69 between Carling Township and Sudbury into five sections that require individual federal environmental approvals.
“Twenty kilometres of new construction north of Alban is the first phase to receive federal environmental approvals and is currently being advertised in two contracts. Construction will begin this summer,” wrote MTO regional issues and media advisor Gordan Rennie in an email. “The remaining 82 kilometres of the corridor comprise the other four phases. Federal environmental approvals are required before engineering can be completed and the highway constructed. This involves intensive studies and mitigation. While construction is getting underway on the next 20 kilometres of construction, the ministry is focusing its efforts on satisfying the requirements of the remaining approvals and land acquisition. This includes negotiations with three First Nation communities for land along the highway route.”
The completion date for the entire four-laning project is 2016.
While that deadline is four years away, Magnetawan First Nation said negotiations aren’t behind schedule.
“As far as we’re concerned everything is right on track, they still have to go through Shawanaga First Nation to the south of us and they have to go through Henvey Inlet to the north of us, we’re right in the middle of these First Nations,” said Laforge.