The Government of Alberta announced it has signed an agreement with Loon River First Nation, Peerless Trout First Nation and Bigstone Cree Nation to begin work to extend Highway 686 to Fort McMurray, connecting northeastern and northwestern Alberta.

The proposed project involves extending Highway 686 by 218 kilometres to connect Peerless Lake and Fort McMurray, creating a new east-west highway link to finally connect northern Alberta communities and to support economic development in Alberta’s north.

“This project will create a new economic corridor in northern Alberta that will improve access to goods and services for communities and businesses across the region. We are pleased to work with Loon River First Nation, Peerless Trout First Nation and Bigstone Cree Nation on this historic project to promote economic growth and an additional emergency route for people in the area,” said Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors.

A new project development framework between the province and United Northern Developments Limited Partnership, a new economic venture established by Loon River First Nation, Bigstone Cree Nation and Peerless Trout First Nation, paves the way for the First Nations to play a primary role leading and actively participating in this project.

“This exciting project to extend Highway 686 represents an unprecedented opportunity for our Nation to realize a new economic vision and a new economic future for our people, where we are participating in the development of our region as a key player, a primary partner in all decisions, and a meaningful beneficiary from the growth and development that happens in our territories,” said Chief Ivan Sawan, Loon River First Nation.

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The framework agreement will establish a planning committee consisting of representatives from the Government of Alberta and the three First Nations. The planning committee will review the proposed Highway 686 corridor location, consider environmental and other impacts, engage with stakeholders and other rights-holders, and identify economic opportunities for communities along the corridor. The committee will also provide input on the delivery of the new Highway 686 corridor project as well as paving work on the existing section of Highway 686 between east of Highway 88, near Red Earth Creek, and Peerless Lake. The committee has the potential to expand to include other First Nations interested in participating and that may be directly impacted by the project.

“Extending Highway 686 to connect Peerless Lake and Fort McMurray will help grow Alberta’s economy, reduce travel times and increase access to goods and services for communities in northern Alberta. This historic partnership between Alberta’s government, Loon River First Nation, Peerless Trout First Nation and Bigstone Cree Nation creates a long overdue east-west link in northern Alberta that will improve the lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Albertans alike,” said Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations.

The proposed Highway 686 extension would connect communities in northern Alberta, helping to reduce travel times and improve access to essential services. The project would also provide an improved and alternate emergency egress from northern Alberta communities, including the Fort McMurray area, as well as for Peerless Trout First Nation, which has long sought an alternate emergency egress.

“The members of Peerless Trout First Nation want to ensure that the lands, wildlife and pristine waters of our territory remain protected, and they also want to see our Nation building up a thriving local economy and a more prosperous future. This announcement empowers our Nation on both fronts – with a seat at a table to ensure that our environment is protected while ensuring that our Nation can capture all the benefits of a major new economic corridor,” said Chief Gilbert Okemow, Peerless Trout First Nation.

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The proposed Highway 686 extension calls for 218 kilometres of two-lane gravel highway between Peerless Lake in Peerless Trout First Nation and Fort McMurray.

Extensive consultation and an environmental assessment on the project will be completed prior to construction.

Once consultation is complete and all required approvals are in place, construction is expected to take at least five years to complete.

A request for proposals was issued on April 21 to complete the design engineering to pave 61.7 kilometres of the existing Highway 686 between east of Highway 88, near Red Earth Creek, and Peerless Lake in Peerless Trout First Nation.

The agreement has an overall value of $2 million to support First Nation coordination and advice, with the potential for an additional $5 million on pre-engineering work in the future.

Featured image: (Government of Alberta)

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