The provincial government announced Monday (April 1) that it has approved a new road that will provide an emergency exit route to Highway 16 for residents of the Lhoosk’uz Dene (Kluskus) Nation settlement and people in the surrounding areas.
The road will begin at approximately 53 kilometres along the Coglistiko (4000) Forest Service Road in the Quesnel Natural Resource District, cross the Blackwater (West Road) River and connect to the end of the Blue 4000 Forest Service Road in the Stuart Nechako Natural Resource District.
“Building this road will provide safety to citizens in the area, as well as socioeconomic benefits to residents of the Kluskus Nation settlement,” Doug Donaldson, minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said in a press release. “The decision to do so aligns with recommendations from the Abbott/Chapman report and supports the Province’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The road will allow for residents living west of the Blackwater River to evacuate to Quesnel or Vanderhoof in the event of an emergency, according to the release. This road will also provide access to Vanderhoof, which will improve options for health care and services, and will enable Kluskus Nation to populate and service currently isolated reserves.
“The bridge crossing and access road to the north side of the Blackwater River provides an emergency escape route for community members when the 4000 Road is blocked by forest fires,” Lhoosk’uz Dene Chief Liliane Squinas said in the release. “It will also connect our community members living in the isolated Kluskus reserves on the north side.”
The project consists of eight kilometres of new construction, including a 40-metre bridge across the Blackwater River and seven kilometres of upgrades to existing roads. Also included are road upgrades and replacement of inadequate, failing or unsafe structures on the current access road (4000 Road). The road will be restricted to non-industrial traffic
The estimated total cost of the project is $3.6 million, and construction is expected to begin this summer and be completed in fall 2020.
The decision to proceed with construction was made after extensive consultation with First Nations, stakeholders and the public, as well as completion of environmental, heritage and recreation reviews, according to the provincial government.
The Kluskus Nation settlement (Kluskus IR1), which is approximately 135 kilometres west of Quesnel and 110 kilometres south of Vanderhoof, currently has only one exit route and has been evacuated five times in the last 13 years due to fires, according to the press release. Of the nation’s 17 reserve lands, 10 have been impacted by fire, and in 2017, the Plateau Fire burned to within 500 metres of the settlement.
Flooding compromised access in 2018 and again in 2019.