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NNSL Photo/graphic

A grader run by a resident of Nahanni Butte works on the access road project for the community. - photo courtesy of Rod Gunderson

The road to Nahanni Butte

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Nahanni Butte (Nov 03/06) - Residents of Nahanni Butte are a lot closer to having a fair weather access road to their community thanks to a joint project.

For 50 days in August and October residents of Nahanni Butte began construction on a fair weather road with the assistance of the Department of Transportation.

Community members have been thinking about a permanent road for a number of years, said Chief Eric Betsaka.

"It was a concern for the community to have an access road," Betsaka said.

Members of the community approach-ed the department with their desire to improve the access road to Nahanni Butte, said Michel Lafrance, the regional superintendent of transportation.

Nahanni Butte managed the project and provided the manpower.

The Department of Transportation provided some training, equipment, knowledge and resources.

"They (the community) did a lot of the work. We just helped make it happen," said Lafrance.

Transportation provided $400,000 for the project, while the community gave $100,000 from their share of the Community Capacity Building Fund.

The Nahanni Butte access road stretches 22.5 km from Highway 7 to the community. It's interrupted by the Liard River. Work on the road began in 1996.

The project required full road construction because there was only a winter road path, said Rod Gunderson the district superintendent of highway operations.

"It was wet, low lying and in pretty grim shape," he said.

This year, six kilometres on the east side of the river were built and gravelled.

The rest of the road is only a rough grade. Another two years will be needed to finish upgrading the road to a desirable standard, said Gunderson.

Six members of Nahanni Butte were employed during the project, said band manager John Ivey.

"There is a certain degree of pride for sure," he said.

The community members worked hard and proved that they are as good as anyone at running heavy equipment, Ivey said.

Once finished, the improved road will have a number of benefits for residents of the community.

The community wants year round access, said Ivey. Getting goods in and out of the community is often a problem.

The plan is to create a parking lot with a locked gate on the east side of the river to allow community members to park their vehicles and provide easy access to the new road, Ivey said.

Currently community members have to take a boat to Blackstone Landing.

The ride can take anywhere from 45 minutes in the summer to over an hour if the water is low and the boat is loaded, said Ivey.

The new route would reduce that time to a five minute boat ride and from there it will only take 20 minutes to reach the highway.

One summer of work has also reduced the time it will take to finish the winter road to the community.

The previous week worth of work has been cut down to two days in addition to the ice bridge construction, said Lafrance.