A compromise has been reached over the issue of gating off a large section of access road on the Northern Peninsula.
The roughly 60-kilometre stretch of road runs along the newly erected transmission line built by Nalcor to deliver hydroelectric power from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the island of Newfoundland.
Nalcor is putting up two gates, one in the north near Brian’s Pond and one to the south at Eagle Mountain River, in response to concerns from outfitters worried about the increased public access to the areas opened up by the new road.
Nalcor was legally bound to mitigate the impacts on the outfitting industry as a condition of the transmission line and road project being released from environmental assessment.
In late July, people opposed to having public access restricted by the gates started a petition against Nalcor erecting the gates.
Now, after further consultations with both outfitters with operations in the area and the disgruntled outdoor recreation enthusiasts, Nalcor has decided to lock the gates for only part of the year.
Construction of the gates began Wednesday and is expected to take about a week to complete, according to the Crown corporation. The gates will be locked by the start of the bow hunting season in late August and will be opened up again when snow conditions allow in the spring.
“It’s not sitting well with some people, but it’s better than nothing,” said Cory Billard, whose social media posts prompted the petition asking for no gates to be erected at all.
The petition is still circulating and, as of Wednesday, had reached 1,400 signatures.
Craig Borden, owner of Rugged Edge in Corner Brook, recently rode with a group of all-terrain vehicle riders on a trek across the access road. He is glad that people will have a chance to tour this area for at least part of the year in the future.
“It’s good to see everyone agreed on this,” said Borden. “This road has opened up a corridor that was never open before.”
While Borden’s business can use this road for tours, he said the real winners are local residents and businesses located at either end of the road who will have a more expedient way to get from the Northern Peninsula to the White Bay South area, let alone enjoy the spectacular scenery along the route.
Borden noted that snowmobilers will be able to access the area during the winter months, after the hunting season ends, when the gates will likely be buried in snow.
“We tend to stay away from these areas during the hunting season anyway for the safety of our guests and because we wouldn’t want to interfere with people hunting,” said Borden.
After news of the petition broke and it seemed Nalcor would be gating the road year-round, Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Christopher Mitchelmore called on Nalcor to consult with the outdoor enthusiasts and outfitters again to reach a compromise.
Mitchelmore said gating the road all year long wasn’t its only option to fulfill the legal requirement of protecting the interests of the outfitters in the area.
“This is a balanced approach that will open up the area, particularly in the summer, which would be the best opportunity for those to avail of our great outdoors,” said Mitchelmore. “It’s good to see these groups were able to come to agreeable terms and we’ll see how it all unfolds.”
According to Nalcor, the gates will be locked in advance of the start of the bow hunting season Aug. 25. The corporation said it will post information about the closure date on its website when the date is confirmed.
(***This article was updated at 9:25 a.m. Aug. 17, 2018 to clarify the date the gates will be closed.)