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Couchiching councillor says community is happy with outcome

A councillor with Couchiching First Nation says her community is happy that the federal and provincial governments have offered enough commitments that a controversial tollbooth on Hwy 11 could be removed.
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A councillor with Couchiching First Nation says her community is happy that the federal and provincial governments have offered enough commitments that a controversial tollbooth on Hwy 11 could be removed.

Sara Mainville said the First Nation community near Fort Frances received enough firm offers and commitments from both levels of government that the community decided to end the tollbooth, which had been up since May 14. The most important commitment from the federal government is the agreement to move 8 homeowners from contaminated lands on the community to new lots and homes.

"We’re happy about that," Mainville said. "The fact that they’re going to take direct action and there aren’t going to be any more studies done on the contaminated lands, that they’re going to move the homeowners and they’re going to remedy the soil contamination so that we’ll have those lands for future development I think, that’s just wonderful news for us."

Couchiching will now enter into negotiations with the federal and provincial government to settle concerns over the highway which dissects the community. Mainville said Couchiching needs a crosswalk and better lighting on the highway so community members can cross safely. While she admits the highway won’t be removed in the foreseeable future, the community also wants the land back if the highway ever ceases to exist.

"It’s not about money or monetary compensation it’s about the fact that we have to coexist with this highway dissecting our community," Mainville said. "The immediate concern is safety we have young children going across that road sometimes with their parents sometimes without."

Mainville said the decision to put up the tollbooth was a "major struggle" for the community but in the end it showed the people there that they can come together in a positive way to make change. The next step is improving relations with the First Nation community and Fort Frances said Mainville. She added that those people who purchased monthly passes for the tollbooth would be reimbursed.

"We didn’t sell a lot of monthly passes but definitely they should be contacting the Couchiching First Nation administration and letting us know that they have a monthly pass."

Mainville expects an announcement from the negotiations in the next three months.

MP John Rafferty, Thunder Bay-Rainy River said he’s pleased that there has been a positive outcome but wishes the situation could have been resolved sooner. Rafferty said he’s been lobbying federal Indian affairs minister Chuck Strahl to enter negotiations with Couchiching since the end of April. Rafferty said the most important issue, soil contamination, has been addressed.

"The timeframe could have been better and it would have been better to avoid the situation entirely but that was not to be," Rafferty said.

While there were some incidences of intolerance from both native an non-native people during the tollbooth, Rafferty said he’s happy that most people showed patience.

"It was nice to see that there was tolerance there was understanding there was patience on the part of almost everybody," Rafferty said. "(I hope) if there is a bit of a dent in those relationships that everyone will get over it and will continue to go on the path to tolerance."