Ray MacDonald and Victor Echodh were both required to take ice rescue training as part of their new Road Maintenance Coordinator position. Photo courtesy of Dewayne Butterfield

New Road Maintenance Coordinators From Black Lake Inspect the Ice Roads

March 3, 2017 in News
Explorer: Spring 2017

One of the contracts in the very beginning days of Athabasca Basin Development was a road maintenance contract in the Athabasca region. Local people were hired as subcontractors then, and local subcontractors continue to maintain over 250km of seasonal roads and a 150km ice road in the Athabasca region today, through Lonona Contracting, a company managed by Points Athabasca.

Lonona Contracting recently hired two local Road Maintenance Coordinator positions. Raymond MacDonald and Victor Echodh Sr, both hailing from Black Lake First Nation, have been hired to inspect the condition of the road that runs from Points North to Uranium City. This length of road is maintained by four local contractors (Medal Enterprise, P&M Gas Bar, Fern Contracting, and SAB’s Contracting). Ensuring these contractors are called out when the different sections of road are approved for maintenance or snow removal is part of the responsibility of the job.

The position requires each coordinator to be trained in First Aid/CPR and have Ice Rescue Training to ensure they are able to assist in any safety issues that could arise while working in the isolated far north. Points Athabasca provided all training for these coordinator positions.

The road from Points North to Uranium City is made up of 400kms of which 150kms is ice road, and 250kms of overland. The road is an all-weather road from Points North to Stony Rapids. The 200kms from Stony Rapids to Uranium City is seasonal and only operational in the winter months.

The Road Maintenance Coordinators are responsible to check the conditions of not just the overland roads, but also to check the more dangerous ice roads. To ensure safety of workers on the ice roads, checking ice thickness is done on skidoo only – no use of ½ tons or any other heavier vehicles is allowed. Maintenance crews do not work alone or at night. The ice is checked every 500 meters, to ensure thickness has reached the required inches to safely allow traffic and maintenance equipment – 20 inches is the minimum allowed, which would allow vehicles only up to 15,000 kg to cross. Equipment must be installed with either bars or floatation barrels in order to allow an operator enough time to escape the equipment if it breaks through the ice. Ice rescue vehicles accompany all ice road clearing operations just in case.

It’s a risky, but important job. The ice roads are essential to the Athabasca communities, both in terms of travel and in bringing supplies to the communities. In the summer months, the communities of Camsell Portage, Uranium City and Fond du Lac are resupplied by a privately-owned barge, which is very expensive compared to travel over the ice roads in the winter. Last year’s mild winter caused the ice roads to open later than normal, causing some communities to be concerned about their level of supplies.