October 13, 2006

James Bay Cree promote road to northern Quebec

Link to south could bring lower prices, other economic benefits


Within 10 years, you may be able to drive from Nunavik all the way to Montreal.

But with the price tag for a road south from Kuujjuaq estimated at $1 billion, the idea of building a less expensive and shorter road for

$250 million to the start of Quebec’s road network in La Grande from the twin Inuit and Cree communities of Great Whale is gaining momentum.

The road from Great Whale could move ahead to construction within five years, and, within 15 years, it could connect east to Lac Bienville.

Full of enthusiasm for the project, the Crees of James Bay have already invested money in a pre-feasibility study for a 250-kilometre road.

It would run between Great Whale River’s neighbouring communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuaraapik, with a joint population of 1,200, and the northerly end of the provincial road network at La Grande’s LG-2 hydroelectric project.

The Crees are seeking Inuit support and involvement in the project. A preliminary survey among Inuit in Kuujjuaraapik showed split support for the project.

But they say, as a selling point for Nunavik-owned businesses, Air Inuit could move their cargo base to Kuujjuaraapik in Nunavik from La Grande’s airport.

Crees largely support the road project because it would link up traditional hunting and fishing lands, open new opportunities for outfitters, and perhaps lead to the construction of a wind energy farm on Cree land.

The road link would also lower the cost of living in Great Whale. The Crees commissioned a price index survey, similar to that recently released at the Kativik Regional Government meeting and reported on in the Sept. 22 Nunatsiaq News, which showed some prices are more than three times higher in Whapmagoostui than in Val d’Or.

The survey found most of the higher prices are due to transport costs incurred during the final leg of the trip north by air from La Grande.

But roads don’t already bring immediate savings.

Sonny Orr from the Cree Development Corporation said in other northern Quebec Cree communities where roads have recently been put in, there’s been an “economic leakage” over the short-term because everyone buys a vehicle as soon as the road comes in.

“There are a lot of impacts,” Orr said.

But preparing for change through education is the way to benefit from a road, he said.

That’s why the Crees are already training rock crushers and heavy equipment operators for the road project and will seek funding to train drillers and blasters.

They’ll be needed because the proposed road from Great Whale will travel over some rough terrain.

“It’s not easy. It’s all rocks and hills. It’s easier to go west to east because the valleys go that way, and all the eskers and gravel you could use as material to go to the east, so we’re going to have to drill and blast a lot of the way,” Orr said.

The Crees’ billion-dollar 2001 Paix des Braves agreement with Quebec on economic development says that a road should be built connecting Whapmagoostui “as soon as possible.”

But Orr said Quebec needs persuasive reasons to move head with the project, which is based on the assumption that Hydro-Québec, the province’s power corporation, will also be able to extend its power grid north.

Hydro-Québec has also looked at the feasibility of building a transmission line that would link Nunavik’s communities and eliminate the need for polluting diesel-generators.

Fighting climate change may also give these Arctic road projects a boost. That’s because extending the power grid would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from diesel generaion.

And with rising temperatures and melting permafrost, winter-only roads are now seen as less of an option as well.