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Cree nation wants to build 750 kilometres of railway

Dec 30, 2020

First Published By: Radio-Canada

The Cree Nation wants to build a railway of about 750 kilometers that would connect Matagami to the communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik. A project that aims to be "ambitious and visionary", according to the President and CEO of the Northern Plan Society (SPN), and which would be carried out in three phases.

"There's a big funnel coming, especially in terms of transportation on the James Bay Highway," says Paul John Murdoch, secretary of the Grand Council of the Crees. The northern development of recent years has made the Cree think and so came the idea of a railway for the first time, more than three years ago.

"If we don't think about managing the potential future traffic, it's going to cause a lot of problems for wildlife, and the environment," he adds, referring to trucking on the James Bay Highway, recently renamed Billy-Diamond Road.

Mining companies will benefit, Murdoch says.

"If there's ever a railway, it's going to solve the mining industry's problems and a bunch of projects are going to become feasible the next day, that's for sure," Murdoch said.

Funding should be split between the Cree, Quebec and Canadian governments, but the mining industry will have to contribute, argues the Wemindji-based lawyer.

Access to the territory is always one of the most important aspects when it comes to analyzing the feasibility of a mining project. "You look at mining development in any region, it's the existence of infrastructure that makes the project feasible, not the existence of the resource," Murdoch says.

Patrick Beauchesne, President and CEO of the Plan Nord Corporation says the Grand Alliance's projects are well under way with the Quebec Plan for the Valuation of Critical and Strategic Minerals.

"These minerals include everything related to energy accumulation, such as cobalt, graphite, lithium. It is the natural resource we need to go green and reduce our GHGs. The Great Alliance wants to offer development in the right way with a strategic vision and one of the strategic aspects is access to the territory," explains the SPN leader.

Davey Bobbish, President and CEO of the James Bay Aboriginal Development Corporation says the feasibility study is expected to begin this winter. Cree communities will be the first to be consulted.

"What's different about this project is that before we even have a developer and discuss design, management and design, we wonder what we can do to accommodate communities, because we know it's going to help the industry, but the industry comes second this time," adds John Paul Murdoch.

"When you do infrastructure, it's always designed for industry and second, third, or at the end, you think of communities. Now it's the other way around," he says.

After the feasibility study, a process for assessing environmental impacts will have to be done, in accordance with Section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Convention.

Bobbish estimates that the first phase, from Matagami to kilometer 257, could be completed within four to five years.

A project within the Great Alliance

This project, which is estimated to be worth $5 billion and could take 30 years to complete, is part of the agreement of the Grande Alliance, a socio-economic collaboration agreement that binds the Governments of Cree and Quebec.

Quebec Premier Fran├žois Legault supports the project, which he signed on February 17 with the head of the Cree government, Abel Bosum.

The Great Alliance is not only interested in the development of road and rail infrastructure, but also discussions will be made on protected areas, the electricity distribution network and the prioritization of critical and strategic minerals.

Several departments are involved in these discussions, including the Departments of Transportation, Energy and Natural Resources and environment and climate change.

Asked about the issue, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources described the project as "very interesting," but noted that the project had emerged from First Nations.

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