Interchange project proceeds to first phase

PAQ’TNKEK: Voters have approved the use of community land for a highway interchange project.

In a community plebliscite on June 14, 98 per cent of voters approved the designation of land near the Paq’tnkek Interchange Project for economic development.

Rose Paul, director of economic development and lands with Paq’tnkek First Nation, explained that because the land in question is still covered under the Indian Act, a double majority was needed to surrender the properties for the development of the interchange, namely connector roads.

Paq’tnkek is located on two parcels of land and around 200 hectares of land on the south of the community was expropriated by the government in the 1960s for the construction of the Trans Canada Highway.

On July 13, 2017, of the 411 eligible voters in Paq’tnkek, 277 took part in a vote on whether or not to surrender 32 acres of land and transfer another 34 acres of band owned land for the purposes of the proposed $15.3 million highway interchange. Of the 277 people who took part, 265 voted in favour.

“Hopefully in generations to come, our community members will not have to go through such a step and process under the Indian Act, we’ll have our own code and our own laws,” Paul explained.

As a result of the vote, Paul said the First Nation can now start clearing the land, serving the property with infrastructure and start the first phase of the project, the Bayside Travel Centre – which includes a gas station, the relocated Paq’tnkek Entertainment Centre and food service providers – this summer. The goal is to have phase one complete by May, 2019.

Paul said Paq’tnkek is also in the middle of finalizing agreements with local municipalities.

“This will include a long haul trucking industry, we’re looking at tourism, quality service restaurants,” Paul explained. “At this time we’re finalizing some agreements.”

Once phase one is finished, Paul said the First Nation will start planning the properties covered in phase two.

“We are looking at developing more businesses, attracting more tenants and definitely becoming an economic engine for our local nation,” Paul noted.

Prior to last year’s vote, Chief Paul Prosper said an agreement exists between Paq’tnkek, and the federal and provincial governments on the terms and conditions related to the highway project, the lands provided, the compensation for the lands, and other items such as the removal of houses and certain losses to other lands.

As part of the agreement, the band will receive $2.3 million in compensation.

In April, Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA and Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal minister Lloyd Hines confirmed the Paq’tnkek Interchange project was on time and on budget.