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Pays Plat making partners, building on economic opportunities

After forming the Pawgwasheeng Economic Development Corporation in 2019, Pays Plat First Nation continues to cement connections across the northern region that extend beyond the boundaries of their own community.

PAYS PLAT FIRST NATION — As progress continues on several recreational developments, Pays Plat First Nation is growing in other ways too.

Thanks to the Pawgwasheeng Economic Development Corporation, a number of small and a few larger projects are expanding Pays Plat's connection to other communities and organizations across Northern Ontario.

Chief David P. Mushquash and the Pays Plat Council gave their blessing for the formation of the economic development corporation in February 2019.

The corporation does not report to chief and council but does act with Pays Plat’s best interests in mind, discerning and fielding joint ventures and partnerships that might be a good fit for the community.

They also promote employment opportunities open to members of the community.

Since its formation, the fairly new economic corporation has mainly taken on “smaller projects,” as noted by Pays Plat’s chief executive officer John Szura, including a five-year contract with Ontario’s ministry of transportation to maintain roadside rest areas between Pays Plat and Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation (Pic River).

Maintenance of these areas includes cutting grass, clearing garbage and debris, and keeping restrooms clean, among other tasks.

“That creates some employment every year, annually for the crew,” Szura said. “The band gets some administration dollars and PEDC makes some money as well.”

Szura also alluded to some of other partnerships the economic development corporation is actively engaged in, including with TBT Engineering and Staal Irrigation & Contracting.

The economic development corporation has signed memoranda of understanding with both companies — in addition to several others such as North Shore Forest Products, Niigaani Drilling, and Workforce Inc.

All of these contracts have gone a long way towards community improvements.

In 2020, for example, TBT Engineering was the first of PEDC’s partners to sponsor the installation of new bleachers for Pays Plat’s Pow Wow grounds.

Other projects that are currently underway continue to shape the community.

On a stretch of Highway 17 headed towards Rossport — an area known to residents of Pays Plat as “Hill 19” — a major construction project involving the group's partners is stimulating local economic growth and improving access to communities across the northern region.

Bot Construction was awarded the $45 million contract for the highway widening and realignment in September 2022.

Besides a realignment, a passing lane will also be added to the highway.

TBT Engineering has provided geotechnical pavement engineering design and investigation services for the project.

Bot is estimating a completion date of September 2024.

“That project has brought a lot of economic spin-offs for Pays Plat,” Szura said.

One such “economic spin-off” is the storage of all the crushed rock produced during construction, which can be further ground into gravel and sand – thus, opening the door to a new economic opportunity.

Approximately 400,000 cubic metres of rock is expected to be excavated during construction and around 300,000 tonnes of granular (from the rock excavation) needs to be processed for the road base.

They are currently storing all of the crushed rock on the north side of the reserve.

The work happening at Hill 19 has also provided employment opportunities for residents of Pays Plat.

And, renting office space to contract administrators from Hatch and a parcel of land to Bot Construction for a workers camp have equally provided the local First Nation with revenue that can be funneled right back into the community.

Hatch is the same engineering consultancy firm that were also administrators for the work performed on the Nipigon River Bridge from 2013-2017 and teamed with Bot Construction on that project as well.

“PEDC is a good asset for chief and council and the community,” Szura said.

In September 2021, Pays Plat First Nation — through the economic development corporation — purchased Fertengiger’s Gas & Variety, located along highway 17.

The gas station was renamed Pawgwasheeng Gas & Variety.

It was previously owned by Frank Achneepineskum.

Frank’s son, Jesse Achneepineskum, is now the current manager.

“We seem to have a good variety of workers from the community, from all the different families around here,” Achneepineskum said. “Starting off with the gas and variety here, we’ll be able to expand to other projects as, I’m hoping, a sign to help advertise the local events.”

Achneepineskum noted that a high volume of tourists pass through Pays Plat in their travels and inevitably stop at their gas station.

He said he is hoping to catch these tourists and attract them to the community.

Adding to that volume of tourists could be a potential partnership that Achneepineskum and the economic development corporation hope to sign with Ontario Northland, which is looking at expanding their operations from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg.

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
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