By: Jenna Hamilton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today

Mayor Sandy Bowman plans to discuss a permanent road linking Fort McMurray to La Loche, Sask. with council, First Nation and Métis leaders, and the province. But, he rejects arguments the road could become a secondary access road for Fort McMurray.

“Given the road’s current location south of Anzac and taking into account existing transportation infrastructure and Fort McMurray’s population and geographic location, I don’t believe this would replace the benefits for another secondary access road more directly connected to Fort McMurray,” Bowman said in an email.

The news comes after Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan announced his government is building a permanent road covering the remaining nine kilometres of the trail on Saskatchewan’s side. Work will be finished by 2023.

The La Loche Winter Trail cuts through 115 kilometres of boreal forest. The municipality spends $25,000 annually maintaining 57 kilometres of the winter trail.

The Saskatchewan government says a permanent road between Fort McMurray and La Loche was announced in 2005 as a project celebrating the centennials for both provinces.

Saskatchewan began road construction on their side of the route in 2007 and has already completed 44 kilometres. No permanent sections have been built on the Alberta side. Moe has asked Premier Jason Kenney to commit to finishing the project.

“An all-weather road between these two northern communities will give employers access to a valuable workforce in northern Saskatchewan, while providing gainful employment and economic development opportunities for the people and communities of this region,” said Moe in a statement.

Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson for Kenney, said in an email that Alberta will respond to Moe’s letter in the near future, but did not offer a timeline.

Locally, mayors and councillors have debated a secondary highway in and out of Fort McMurray since 2001, but costs and logistics have usually ended those talks. The idea has seen renewed popularity since the 2016 Horse River Wildfire.

Council approved lobbying the provincial and federal governments for support on the East Clearwater Highway in July 2019. If built, the East Clearwater Highway would connect Anzac and Fort McKay by running parallel to Highway 63. Other options that have been proposed include a permanent route to Grande Prairie.

Municipal and Indigenous leaders have also discussed building a permanent road linking Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan. Warm weather and rising water levels have shortened the winter road seasons for the La Loche and Fort Chipewyan routes in recent years.