Mild winter blocks access to ice roads in remote Ontario reserves – by Julien Gignac (Globe and Mail – February 6, 2016)

Many remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario are suffering the effects of one of the mildest winters on record: Roughly 60 per cent of ice roads connecting dozens of reserves to southern municipalities have yet to open. Most of those that have opened can only sustain light traffic – snowmobiles or small, half-ton trucks.

Frigid temperatures are welcomed in the region, as ice roads function as lifelines to otherwise landlocked First Nations, expediting the transportation of such supplies as diesel fuel, building materials and food. Sometimes community members themselves make the trip to Thunder Bay to stock up on essentials. Without winter roads, northern communities have been forced to ship supplies by air, a costly endeavour.

“Nothing’s moving,” said Darrell Morgan, president of Morgan Fuels, which is a top distributor of fuel in the Northern Ontario region. “The lack of ice is a tough go. We supply some communities with fuel through air freight, but it’s extremely expensive.”

Fuel is particularly important because many communities use diesel-powered heat and electric generators.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said if ice roads continue to thaw, there will be no other choice but to fly in more supplies. NAN represents 49 Northern Ontario First Nations, roughly 28 of which rely on ice roads. There are about 45,000 people in the region.

“Communities are starting to run low on fuel,” Mr. Fiddler said. “Most of our communities rely on diesel power generators, so they could just start to shut down – health centres, schools.”

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