A $4.2-million chipseal project is under way in the village of Fort Simpson – except for one small section of road belonging to the territorial government.
Village of Fort Simpson staff says they are willing to do the work on the road, an approximately 500-foot portion of the Tsetso Trail at the entrance to the neighbourhood of Wild Rose Acres.
However, the village contends the Department of Infrastructure hasn’t responded to its request for permission to go ahead.
That means that section will remain gravel, even though the village has the capacity to do the work.
Gerald Antoine, Chief of the Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation, said there is a disconnect in how the territory is approaching work on the village roads.
“When you’re doing things, you look at everything holistically and then you take a look at how you need to do it. And then you proceed,” he said.
“This is how Dene approach things and, in this particular case, there seem to be some things that are not properly joined here.”
In a July 15 letter to infrastructure minister Katrina Nokleby, Mayor Sean Whelly requested that her department complete drainage work on the section of Tsetso Trail that the village wanted to chipseal. The letter went on to request approval from the Department of Infrastructure to go ahead with chipsealing that section and be reimbursed for a portion of the cost.
“It’s called the Four-Mile Access, off the main Mackenzie Highway, but Highways does not maintain it very well – to the bare minimum,” said Whelly.
“The road really goes to potholes all the time and so now you’re going to have chipseal on the main highway, you turn for 500 feet, bounce the heck out of your vehicle, and then go back on to chipseal.”
Village willing to do the work
Antoine said it doesn’t make sense to leave that territorially owned portion of road as gravel when the municipality is already doing work in the area.
“We have chipseal all the way from the community to the airport and also to the ferry. We also have chipseal from the ferry all the way to the Jean Marie turnoff,” he said.
“And you have the municipality that provides services to our Wild Rose Acres – so they’re making an attempt to [chipseal] the municipal area, but they’re not going to do anything about the Tsetso Trail?”
Wild Rose Acres has around 50 homes. Residents have only one road in or out. Whelly said residents use the Tsetso Trail to access Cazon Crescent, which loops around the subdivision.
“We’re willing to do [the work], and then we would either get reimbursed later for it,” said Whelly, “or we would enter into serious negotiations about how to transfer that road – so the village could properly maintain it in the future for our residents.”
‘Get things together’
Responding to Cabin Radio, the Department of Infrastructure didn’t directly state whether it had considered the village’s offer.
Spokesperson Greg Hanna said the department welcomed the “opportunity to work closely with the village of Fort Simpson and residents to complete further upgrades and repairs.”
However, the department said it would be completing work on the Tsetso Trail in the summer of 2022. Hanna said drainage work was “the responsibility of the village and any property owners with access to the road.”
Whelly says that statement regarding drainage doesn’t make sense when it’s a territorially owned roadway.
He added he was disappointed there had been no response to the questions put forward in his letter, in which he urged “quick action and cooperation in order to get this project done on time.”
“That’s not really an answer to our question: could we find a way to cooperate within the next week or two to get the work done before the chipping starts on August 15?” he said.
“They’re dealing with the requests in terms of years rather than two weeks.”
Antoine said: “As chief, I am very concerned because it’s something the municipality had put down as a capital plan and they’re following up with it.
“So I would like to recommend that [the GNWT] get their things together. And let’s proceed right. It’s the end of July, let’s get it going.”
By the end of Friday, the village had not received a response from the department.
“We were expecting a call to say, well, we reviewed your letter and no, unfortunately, we either can’t do it or, yes, we will be doing it and let’s sit down quickly and see what we can come up with,” said Whelly.
“And to say that they’re always open to exploring possibilities, that’s just not going to cut it. Those are too general. And they’re not time-sensitive in any way.”