East Side Road Authority
East Manitoba makes for rough terrain, especially to the 13 First Nations communities that call this isolated area home. Known as fly-in communities, these areas cannot be accessed via road, save for a few months of makeshift winter road. It is during this time when locals must work quickly to stock their supply for the colder season.
For the East Side Road Authority, the goal is to link these communities to the surrounding greater population of southern Manitoba. With that, it means more than 1,000 kilometres of road works will need to be built, a tall order considering work volume and the aforementioned weather conditions. According to Ernie Gilroy, CEO of the East Side Road Authority, it makes for a 20-year project worth an estimated $3 billion.
Project job creation
Overall, the roads project began last year after coming to community benefit agreements with the local First Nations. Instructed by the Government of Manitoba, the East Side Road Authority strives to conduct the project with plenty of public consultation and local labour.
Accordingly, the East Side Road Authority works with local First Nations communities in its job creation efforts, with job training programs for construction work and training in operating heavy equipment, etc. Following, local companies are then formed to complete the construction work.
As part of contract tendering for these construction projects, construction contractors are required to hire a staff composed of at least 30 per cent local workers.
“We train them, we help them set up their companies, and we require that big contractors hire the local people,” Gilroy said. “Part of our mandate is to make sure these communities can at least communicate with each other throughout the year. That would be a big advantage for them, as is enhanced access to emergency health and social services, as are the pay cheques that come with the construction work.”
“Part of it is involving the local people. These are the people that live there so they know what is there and we’re tapping into that knowledge,” added Doug Peterson, Vice-President of Engineering and Construction for the East Side Road Authority.
Indeed, public input has played a big role in these public works projects. Consultation allows the East Side Road Authority to locate the best and safest areas to build roads, and roads are designed with engineering, constructability, and the environment in mind. Minimizing environmental impact is a key initiative for the East Side Road Authority.
The East Side Road Authority strives to properly manage environmental issues across all of its work. Part of this environmental management philosophy also applies with the local First Nations application as a World Heritage Site with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Part of this initiative sees, as an example, the East Side Road Authority replace any trees that are damaged during the construction process. Any trees that are removed are then free to be taken by the First Nations, used for wood burning and cabin building. As Gilroy summarized, “This project is seen as a how-to project in terms of environmental management.”
As the construction is taking place in a more remote area than everyday construction, it makes public input and environmental assessments all the more valuable. Information, especially in terms of environmental licensing, is not as readily available in these remote areas, compared to other areas.
“In an area we may not be working in for three or four years, we’re starting to gather the environmental information now,” Peterson said. “We’re better defining what their current situation is. When it comes to the point where we’re ready to get into construction mode, we will have the environmental licensing in place based on the preliminary designs.”
This winter, the East Side Road Authority will complete about $36 million worth of projects, slightly more than just one per cent of the total project cost. The work will see projects occurring in the northern communities, with the construction of temporary bridges. Some major work and heavy duty construction will also get underway soon.
“We’ve built one bridge, and we’re building two more this winter,” Gilroy said. “We have seven kilometres of roadwork that has been built to date, of the 1,028 kilometres, so we’re just in our infancy.”
Today, the project stands in various stages, from conceptual studies, to preliminary engineering, to detailed engineering, to construction. Peterson summarized, “We’re covering the whole gamut right now.”
Gilroy concluded, “When we get fully functional, we’re going to be working in each of the communities, working toward the centre, so it will be a unique construction process.”