A look behind the issues prompting the toll booth

Peggy Revell

The first of the two main issues surrounding the band’s action is compensation for the 33.9 acres of Couchiching FN land which Highway #11 was built upon decades ago.
The province and federal Department of Indian Affairs originally negotiated an exchange of the 44.5 acres within what’s historically known as the “two-chain shore allowance,” Chief Chuck McPherson had explained in a previous interview with the Times.
But the band says this original survey of the “two-chain shore allowance” land was done “erroneously” because the surveyor commissioned to survey the neighbouring Agency #1 reserve back in 1876 included land that already was part of the Couchiching reserve.
As well, dam construction in the early 1900s meant only nine acres of the original 44.5 acres exists.
The other reason for the toll booth comes from the federal government not yet having relocated the six families whose residences are situated on the identified contaminated site of the former J.A. Mathieu sawmill dipping ponds.
“The whole approach from Health Canada and First Nations, Inuit Health Branch—they’re quite flexible in changing their standards,” said Chief McPherson, referring to all of the testing and reports concerning the high levels of dioxins, furans, and other chemicals that have been identified at the site.
“On a scale of one to 10, if four was the danger zone, and we were at a six, well, they elevated it to eight so we were under that health standard.
“It’s not a hazard anymore.”
A report earlier this month, written by hired consultant Dr. Naz, outlined how the identified chemicals have been linked to the original site INAC had leased to the sawmill, and as such INAC has a “contractual obligation to restore the site by remediation/clean-up of contaminated properties using the Best Available Technology [BAT].”
The report also states concentrations of dioxins and furans at the various residences and tested locations exceed the human health/Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment criteria.
“Under the current circumstances, the overriding objective is to reduce the exposure to levels as low as reasonably practicable,” the report stated.
“This can only be achieved by restricting access to the contamination to authorized personnel and/or by remediating the soil to [below the given criteria].
“Thus conducting further investigation while the residents are still living on contaminated soil cannot be justified due to the extreme toxicity of the PCDD-PCDF mixture and the continued exposure of residents.”
Remediation—which the report said would require full body protection for those doing the work, and consists of excavating and stockpiling the contaminated soil—is a process by which residences still would need to be relocated due to safety and health, the report recommended.
“With respect to an update on the current situation at Couchiching, INAC and Health Canada officials continue to work with the community to address issues related to the contaminated site, INAC spokeswoman Susan Bertrand said in a May 18 e-mail to the Times concerning the current status of the contaminated site.
“INAC will continue to provide funding for the site assessment to identify the extent of the contamination and to develop a remedial action plan,” she noted.
“First Nations are responsible for tendering, selecting a contractor, and overseeing implementation of these projects,” Bertrand added.
“Accordingly, the First Nation would be best positioned to provide further information on the site assessment as it is managing this project.
“INAC is currently awaiting the final site assessment report from the First Nation’s consultant,” Bertrand noted.