Sick of choking on dust

Derek Montague
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Cartwright waiting for province to provide relief from gravel roads

The provincial government says dust-control measures will soon be implemented on gravel roads in the province, and for people in Cartwright, it can’t come soon enough.

Residents of Cartwright have been dealing with dusty gravel roads for two straight summers. The community is worried the dust can have negative effects on health and tourism.

In May, members of the town council and concerned residents spoke out about the heavy dust on its roads.

It’s seen as an irritant and a health hazard, particularly for people with breathing problems.

But more than a month after the government stated it would implement a program of using calcium chloride — a type of road salt that keeps dust down — the town is still waiting.

“Everybody is very frustrated, not only that it’s taking so long, but that it was taken away in the first place, obviously, and that we had to lobby so hard to get it back,” said Coun. Kristin Pardy, referring to budget cuts in 2013 that saw the service eliminated.

“It’s just such a difficult situation, living here in the summer with the dust. Last year was the first year we didn’t receive (the calcium chloride) since the highway’s been put through, and it was awful. Everybody endured the summer, but it was awful and people were very frustrated.”

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath said Tuesday he’s expecting the calcium chloride program to begin in less than a week.

In total, 192 kilometres of road will be treated. In Labrador, that means roads in Cartwright, St. Lewis and Mary’s Harbour.

McGrath said he hopes all roads will be treated by Aug. 18.

Pardy said as soon as all the snow melts in May, the dust problems start. For two months, residents have had to find their own methods of dealing with the hazard.

“I know of one resident, in particular, he’s an older gentleman and he doesn’t own a vehicle. He rides his bike everywhere,” said Pardy.

“The last few weeks, every time I’ve passed him, I’ve seen him with one of those medical masks on to try and filter out some dust.”

Aside from health concerns, the town council worries about the impression clouds of dust will leave on those visiting the community.

Cartwright wants to be a popular tourist destination — not one  known for cough-inducing dust.

“With the Mealy Mountain Park coming within the next summer or two, we’re really hoping to have a lot of tourists coming to our town,” said Pardy.

“They’re all going to be on the roads and it’s going to be dusty. We really want to make a good impression for them because we want these (tourists) to keep coming back.”

McGrath said he understands why people are frustrated with the wait for calcium chloride, but Transportation and Works had to follow protocol when tendering the contract, which was eventually awarded to a Quebec contractor for $741,000.

“Once the decision was made to reinstate it, by legislation it then had to go out to tender because of the size and cost of the project,” said McGrath.

“Once we receive the bids and we look at the successful bidder, there’s a series of checklist items that we have to go through with any tender. The department is actually completing that work now as we speak.”

Even once calcium chloride is applied to the two kilometres of Cartwright’s main road, there are still smaller side roads that require dust control measures, but those  are the responsibility of the municipality.

Pardy said the council is prepared to pay the contractor for that service once the calcium chloride truck arrives.

“We can’t afford to bring the truck in ourselves, but we’ve approved the money to use the truck, or hire the truck, when it gets here, to do all of the side roads for us.”

The Labradorian

Geographic location: Labrador, Mealy Mountain Park, Quebec

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