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Back on the road again
Proposal for another winter road south in national park re-emerges in Fort Smith

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 24, 2013

THEBACHA/FORT SMITH
The idea of a second winter road south through Wood Buffalo National Park has re-emerged in Fort Smith after being dormant for years.

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Peter Martselos: Former mayor of Fort Smith hopes to revive idea of second winter road south through Wood Buffalo National Park. - NNSL file photo

The proposed 118-kilometre route in Alberta would connect Peace Point about 100 km south of Fort Smith and Garden River by upgrading an old logging road.

Peter Martselos, former mayor of Fort Smith and a longtime proponent of the road, has written town council to request a letter of support.

"I wish to reactivate the Thebacha Road Society in response to recent discussions with the premier of the GNWT on the topic of the proposed road," states the letter from Martselos, who was president of the society.

The letter adds the premier has agreed to provide funding to conduct meetings in Fort Smith and surrounding communities in order to update information on the proposed road and $50,000 is being requested from the government.

However, the letter's suggestion that Premier Bob McLeod has agreed to provide funding is a misstatement. When contacted by News/North, Martselos said no one has committed anything in funding.

A spokesperson for the premier's press secretary also said there has been no commitment of money by the premier, adding anyone seeking funding from the territorial government must follow due process and put together a proposal.

Martselos said the process is just now beginning to seek financial support.

"Everything is in the early stages," he said.

Martselos' letter to town council states the premier has requested that he receive a letter of support from the town.

"The proposed meetings have been requested by many people and I believe that once these update meetings have been held, people will be more informed of the work that has been done over the past 20 years and be able to understand the benefits of constructing this road," it reads.

Martselos told News/North that he is hopeful, noting the road would benefit all communities south of Great Slave Lake.

Fort Smith Mayor Brad Brake is supportive of the idea, partly because of the threat of forest fires. He also said the proposed road could start as a winter road and possibly evolve into an all-weather route.

"We're an isolated community. We only have one road exit. We can use the river, but not everybody has boats. Just about everyone in town has vehicles or access to vehicle transportation."

The request for a letter of support was discussed at the May 21 meeting of Fort Smith town council. The council vote was tied. In favour of writing a letter of support were councillors Don Webb, Ron Holtorf, Al Dumont, and Deputy Mayor Lou Sebert. Voting against writing a letter of support were councillors Chris Westwell, Kevin Smith, Bob McArthur and Lynn Napier Buckley. With a tie vote of council, Brake cast the deciding vote in favour of writing a letter of support.

"I think it would definitely not hurt for us to have a second route out," Brake said. "I can't see any issues with providing a letter of support to it at this time. I don't see anything detrimental about it."

The mayor said the votes by council show the road concept has the support of most people in the community.

Brake said it could help tourism, but he doesn't believe it would mean more people going south to shop. "They're going to go as much as they always do."

The concept of the road south was first proposed decades ago, but has never been able to get off the ground. In 2005, the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., won a court case that it had not been properly consulted on the road proposal. Parks Canada had approved the project in 2000.

There is already one winter road south through Wood Buffalo National Park. It runs from Peace Point to Fort Chipewyan, Alta., and offers a route to Fort McMurray.

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