James Street Bridge Impacting Economy
FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION – The economic impact of the continued closure of the James Street Bridge on both Fort William First Nation, and Thunder Bay was the topic of a meeting in Fort William First Nation tonight.
Chief Georjann Morrisseau introduced the evening, with thanks for the Elders, and the Women’s drum group.
In attendance tonight was Ontario Regional Chief Beardy and Chief Peter Collins along with Mayor Keith Hobbs and Councillor Linda Rydholm.
“Our businesses are being impacted,” stated Chief Morriseau. “It is also a safety issue, and it is just a matter of time before there is a fatal accident”.
The impact of the bridge remaining closed is hitting First Nation businesses hard. Traffic to Fort William First Nation is down to half of what it was before the bridge caught fire in October. There were 15,000 vehicles per day travelling to the community, now that number is less that 7,500.
CN Remains Silent
Mayor Keith Hobbs shared with the meeting that this is an issue impacting the community. The Mayor talked about how maximizing the opportunities especially on mining are being impacted. Hobbs stated, “We have heard nothing from CN”.
Members of the audience stated, “You guys have to get moving, moving moving, get a timeline and get moving”.
CN had been invited to the meeting but declined to attend.
Support from Chiefs of Ontario
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy stated, “I came out to hear an action plan”.
“I am very concerned over the safety of children,” added the Regional Chief.
“I am prepared to act on whatever plan is agreed to at this meeting. I think what we need to do here is to identify the actions needed.”
“If it is the direction of FWFN Chief and Council, to take this issue forward, on how CN is treating its neighbours”, added Regional Chief Beardy.
Regional Chief Peter Collins asked if the Minister of Transportation has been brought in to investigate. The former FWFN Chief said this issue is impacting families.
Addressing the audience, Chief Collins stated, “We have to put a deadline on this, for an investigation”. Chief Collins suggested that if there is no action then perhaps the next step might be to block the bridge”.
Collins stated, “It took them three days to open the bridge for rail traffic, why is there a delay?”
Neebing Road Councillor Linda Rydholm commented that while people are trying to drive safer, and while the small yellow warning lights have been installed and the yield signs bigger, there needs to be more done. The corner needs to be changed.
“The province is facing big expenses to fix the corner”, commented Rydholm. “I have asked the OPP to do more traffic control on the intersection as well. I have been focused on safety”.
Economic Impact $50,000 per Day
Economic Development Director Walter Bannon stated, “There has been a forty per cent drop in business, and the impact of the bridge closure has been $50,000 per day in revenues for businesses on the Fort William First Nation”.
“There is increased danger for students on our five school buses”.
Additionally increased response times for police, fire and Ambulances have been noted.
“Businesses in Westfort have seen a ten percent decrease in sales”, added Bannon. “Some of the merchants are just becoming aware of some of the concerns from their own member BIAs”.
“Business is down, people are being laid off, or their hours reduced”, concluded Bannon.
Increasingly from people in the audience, the term was the need for action and the term blockade kept coming up from person after person in the audience.
The lack of action and communication from CN has increasingly angered the people of Fort William First Nation.