BY CLAIRE CUDAHY
At the May 11 Red Lake Committee of the Whole meeting, Marc Wermager presented a revised route of the long talked about “Road from the West” which would more directly connect Red Lake to Manitoba.
Wermager, a retired canoe outfitter, says that the high cost of the Road from the West was the reason previous route options never gained support from the government.
This new route, according to Wermager, avoids lakes and rough country, runs with the grain in the terrain, has a natural gentle grade, and is “surprisingly straight”—all factors that will “reduce the cost considerably.”
Wermager estimates the cost of the new route to be $13 million.
“It is the result of years of studying aerial photographs, driving old roads, and canoeing to inaccessible locations,” says Wermager of the 128.68 km proposed gravel road starting from Highway 618 just east of Madsen.
Wermager asserts that the road would cut two hours off the trip to Winnipeg, create an avenue for power lines to access cheaper Manitoba electric power, improve tourist opportunities, and lower freight costs to allow businesses to offer more competitive prices.
He says that sections of the proposed road qualify for the provincial government’s Forest Roads Funding Program, which covers 100 per cent of the primary costs for construction of forest access roads that serve multi-resource uses.
Another factor that Wermager says will change the outlook for the project this time around is the proposed changes in the Red Lake Regional Land Use Plan, which, he says, would open up the protected Red Lake Forest for prospecting and mining in exchange for a conservation area in the Kenora Forest. This would free timber for harvest and allow the proposed route to be built in that area.
He is asking that council give its blessing on the project so that through funding from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, a precise cost projection can be determined by a highway engineer.
“All I need is a letter from council saying that they favour the road and then we will get this study done and we can pursue it from there,” explains Wermager.
Mayor Phil Vinet says the concept of the Road from the West has been talked about for over 50 years now, but the project has not gone anywhere because “there’s no provincial appetite to develop new road works in the upper northwest.”
“The province doesn’t have a lot of money, and certainly the Municipality of Red Lake can’t afford to have any financial input,” explains Vinet.
“The environmental assessment process is a factor that really must be considered, and certainly the most important component of this all is the First Nations’ input,” says Vinet, adding that the municipality will review Wermager’s proposal and make an eventual recommendation to council.