Former Fort William First Nation chief Peter Collins says it’s time to consider a blockade of CN rail traffic crossing the James Street Swing Bridge.
Collins was not alone in his sentiment Monday night as residents and business owners from both sides of the bridge gathered to voice their frustration with the fire-forced Oct. 29 closure.
“I think it’s time for the members to take action because we’re not getting the answers we need,” Collins said. “How long do we have to put up with this crock that they’ve got going on with those trains traveling across the bridge every day.”
It’s time for action, he added.
“I’m not sure what that action might be, but I think (it might be) blocking those trains crossing the bridge until we get an answer. If it’s not safe for our transportation to travel across there, how can it be safe for trains to travel across there?” Collins said.
“And if there’s a disaster with those trains falling in the river, who’s first impacted? That’s our community.”
Resident Marlene Pierre agreed.
“You better start saying blockade and I think this council should take the leadership and turn that into a plan,” Pierre said.
“I think a blockade is one of the better ways.”
According to figures provided to media at the meeting, the impact of the bridge closure has been staggering.
Walter Bannon said businesses on Fort William First Nation are losing a combined $50,000 a day, more than $5.2 million since the suspicious fire closed the century-old span.
“All of the businesses are down 40 per cent on average,” Bannon said. “Employment, wages, hours all have been reduced by 40 per cent.”
Jessie Bannon, who owns J&W Confection and Bannon’s Gas Bar, said her business is down 50 per cent and blamed the longer commute to the reserve as a direct result. If something isn’t done soon, she’s not sure what might happen.
“I don’t know. I think we’d have to almost pretty well close up, because (business) is going down,” she said.
Stores on the Thunder Bay side of the Kaministiquia River have also felt the pinch. A representative of Westfort Foods said his business is down 10 per cent since the fire, a figure replicated in three other stores surveyed.
May Keith Hobbs and Fort William First Nation Chief Georgjan Morriseau said they’ve each written to the Ministry of Transportation to try to speed up the process.
Hobbs said he even offered to pay half the cost of CN’s engineering study, due in March or April, despite the fact the railroad is responsible for the maintenance of the bridge.
“We need to light a fire under CN,” Hobbs said, adding he’s asked the MTO to look into the feasibility of a bailey bridge as a temporary replacement.
The mayor said the city has had an agreement with CN for nearly a century, but the original document referred mostly to horse-and-buggy traffic.
Morriseau said the debate is bigger than just her community.
“It’s not just a Fort William First Nation issue, it’s a Thunder Bay issue as well,” she said. “We’ve received not much of a response from CN ... I think we’ve waited around long enough. I think it’s safe to say businesses are being greatly impacted. We just want to see this bridge opened, now.”
CN representatives were invited to the meeting, but declined. They did say they’ve added extra consultants to the file.