Building a winter road and economic opportunity

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Winter road photo by Antonius Knijnenburg

Kasabonika Lake News
Tyance Anderson
February 8, 2017

It’s the last community to be connected to the winter road, but when it’s finally open, the people of Kasabonika Lake use it to its full advantage.

From stockpiling supplies from further south, transporting housing materials, visiting friends and family in neighbouring communities to hitting up bingos and hockey tournaments, the winter road promises adventure and opportunity.

Construction began a little later than usual this year, just after Christmas. Usually work begins on the stretch from Long Dog to Kasabonika in November, however the road is usually completed by early February. It officially opened Sunday, February 5th to light (non-commercial) traffic until further notice.

Leon Beardy has been a winter road maintenance worker for many years. He operates the “groomer” that plows and scrapes the snow.

It’s a 24 hour job,” said Beardy who works almost non-stop. “Smacking into rocks, and falling asleep and trying to keep one eye open. Yeah…it’s a lot of fun.”

To make the winter road, first the crew goes ahead and fixes all the creeks, explained Beardy. They place logs across the creek and then flood it and wait for it to harden. When Beardy gets there they throw snow on top and make sure the crossing is secure. Then Beardy continues to plow on.

“Once I open the road, that first snow, when you cut through, the snow will harden,” explained Beardy. “This cold weather – this is the best time. So then we just have our drag – the tires and we have another big steel beam we drag – then from there we just keep on driving back and forth until the road smooths out.”

A couple warm days in January made the road too mushy, but now temperatures are in the minus teens and that’s better to work with, he says.

If you’ve lots of snow to be cut, and we get cold, cold weather, it’s good. Because then the snow compacts and gets nice and hard.”

When the crew gets to a lake they check the ice first. “Always safety first, ” says Beardy.

He needs the ice to be at least 16 inches thick for the groomer to safely cross. If the snow doesn’t pile up too much on the ice, it freezes deeper. They check the thickness with an auger every few feet across.

They have a chart here, it says for like a small dozer we have, that that thing can go sixteen inches. Well that guy, whoever said that, can drive the dozer across if he wants, but not me,” Beardy laughed. He says three feet of thick ice is ideal. 

“It’s good to take an ice auger and drill then let it sit, and then drill again. The ice gets thicker.” 

Beardy has never fallen through the ice and says if he did, no one would ever see him out on it again. Once the road paths are made and cleared, they just need to be maintained.

From Long Dog to Kasabonika is an hour, and the road is extra wide. People travel up to 50 kilometers an hour. Sometimes you see moose and caribou, rabbits, martens and partridges. Maybe a wolf or northern lights if you’re lucky.

Councillor Ralph Begg recently returned on the winter road, all the way from London, ON spending 38 hours driving all together. It took him 14 hours on the winter road from Sioux Lookout to Kasabonika.

“I lost so much time on the Long Dog section, it’s too bumpy,” he explained. “My speedometer was barely moving, sometimes it didn’t wanna move.”

The bumpiness is an unavoidable part of the winter road. Ask anyone what it is like, and they say “it’s bumpy.”

At first when we make the road, it’s bumpy,” explained Beardy. “Then later on you have to cut with the blade a little bit and kind of smooth everything out.” 

The winter road will probably be open until the end of March. Last year it was only open a few weeks. Housing materials had to be flown in by air, making the 600 000 lbs of supplies much more expensive.

“We got a deal on the air freight as it’s usually 80 cents a pound,” explained financial adviser Antonius Knijnenburg. “But we would have brought it all in through winter road.”

A truck loaded with 50 000 lbs costs approximately $7000, or 15 cents a pound. Even with a deal, it cost the band $300 000 to fly the supplies in – a major difference of $210 000 in their housing budget, which is a loss in entire houses being built.

Between the cost of freight and fuel, everything that comes in on the winter road is cheaper – from gasoline to toilet paper.

“I would estimate the economic value of a winter road to a community like Kasabonika to at least one million dollars in economic projects,” said Knijnenburg, and that doesn’t include personal savings on food, travel and other household goods and necessities.

“Not having the winter road would be a severe loss in economic opportunities” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

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