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Cliffs funds improved ice road to Marten Falls

August 13, 2013
by Norm Tollinsky
In: News

Cliffs funds improved ice road to Marten Falls

Beau Johnson, land administrator, Cliffs Natural Resources, wearing hardhat, is joined by David Ritch and Caroline Ritch, left, and Andrew Williams, right, on Marten Falls ice road last winter. The upgraded winter road can support loads of up to 90,000 pounds and can provide overland access to Marten Falls over a period of three to four months, weather permitting.

Cliffs Natural Resources’ chromite project in the Ring of Fire may be stalled, but members of the First Nation community of Marten Falls are looking forward to the second winter in a row of smooth sailing over a 134-kilometre ice road linking the remote community to the outside world.

The Cleveland, Ohio-based iron ore and metallurgical coal miner agreed to work with Marten Falls to realign and upgrade an existing winter road trail in 2010 as part of an effort to build bridges with the First Nation community.

Construction of the professionally designed road began in 2011 and was completed in January 2013. The overland route to Marten Falls passes through the Aroland First Nation at the northern extremity of Ontario’s all-season road network and continues approximately 70 kilometres due north along a dirt logging road.

“From there, a winter road trail was used to access Marten Falls, but it wasn’t generally accessible to members of the community because it was pretty rough,” said Jason Aagenes, Cliffs’ director of environmental affairs. “The winter season for the trail was very short and it was uncertain because it was constructed with very basic techniques and minimal equipment.”

Supplies were hauled in by a skidder.

“The whole idea of partnering with Marten Falls was to improve access to the community by building a road that would be safer, straighter and wider,” said Aagenes. “Last winter was the first time that a transport truck was able to drive into the community. There were a number of large loads of building supplies, food and diesel fuel that were brought in.”

Community members were also able to drive their own personal vehicles in and out of the community. “Typically, that didn’t happen on the old winter trail,” said Aagenes.

Winter roads can provide access to remote communities for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the weather and the construction techniques used to build the road.

Ice bridges over rivers and streams are generally the weak link, explained Aagenes.

“You have to start establishing the ice bridges early. You have to pack the snow, continuously grade it to push the frost deeper and flood the crossings to build up the ice.”

It’s also necessary to drill through the ice to test for thickness. Feedback from the community was very positive, said Aagenes.

“They were extremely excited to see that we were willing to work with them. This is really one of the first steps in establishing a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. We still have a lot of work to do. It’s still very early, but we think this was a good collaborative effort.”

Marten Falls First Nation is located on the banks of the Albany River in the James Bay Lowlands and has an on reserve population of approximately 300.

Except for the few weeks or months when the ice road is passable, the community relies on expensive air transportation to bring in supplies and access health care.

A video about the ice road and its impact on the community is available for viewing on YouTube. Just enter Marten Falls Winter Road in the search field.

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