Hiawatha gas station blocked again
OPP escort workers away from Hiawatha Line construction site, but developers say the opposition is all about fear of competition
HIAWATHA — Division continued in Hiawatha First Nation on Wednesday as the chief, council, and band members, set up a blockade to prevent construction crews from building a new gas station at 829 Hiawatha Line.
The band’s former chief is a partner in the new gas station. Those opposing the development fear environmental and financial impacts, while the owners say they have addressed those issues.
Construction didn’t move forward Wednesday because Peterborough County OPP escorted Tri-Land Excavating and Haulage crews out of Hiawatha at about 11:30 a.m.
Earlier this month, the chief and council delivered a trespassing order to the construction company, preventing them from continuing work.
“We are within our rights, and we are doing everything within all laws, regulations and rules,” said Georgina Rogers.
Rogers has certificate of possession for 829 Hiawatha Line and partnered with former Hiawatha chief Greg Cowie and band member Laurel Shearer to open the gas station.
“It gives me exclusive use and ownership to that property,” she said.
According to Rogers, excavation on the property started July 15 and continued for two weeks without an issue. A council resolution was passed two days later, placing a moratorium on any new business development or expansion until a land code is completed, she said.
“I am not going to speculate on that, and I am not going to,” Rogers responded when asked if she felt the moratorium was passed to block the partners from opening the new business.
Rogers, however, questioned why it is that if the wetlands were such a concern to the protesters, the chief and council waited until the end of the month to inform band members of the moratorium.
“Why didn’t they hand deliver it on the 18th?” she asked.
Despite the moratorium, Rogers says there are no rules, regulations, bylaws or best practices in place in Hiawatha that require the partners to get permission from the chief and council or anyone else.
“We have all of our due diligence, researching, and getting all the paperwork that says that. I guess we have met all the requirements that are necessary to put a business in,” Rogers said.
Hiawatha First Nation Chief Laurie Carr, who was front and centre at the blockade Wednesday, said the partners did not seek any approval or community input before going ahead with their plans.
“This whole process has been disrespectful to chief and council, and the community,” she said.
“Why did they have to hide it from the community?”
Carr has received correspondence between Environment Canada and the builders, but says the inspector doesn’t have authority to shut down or keep the project going.
In an Aug. 13 email provided by Rogers, an Environment Canada official from the wildlife division states that work could continue on the site as long as it does not exceed the area that has already been disturbed as part of the construction.
“Any new construction that exceeds the original site as observed should be put on hold until the final report has been received,” the email states.
Both sides have distributed flyers to band members to support their cases.
Those against the gas station claim the construction has already caused significant damage to the wetland area, while the builders say gas stations don’t harm the environment.
“Environment Canada reviewed the site and the plans, and approved the project,” the owners’ flyer reads.
Opponents also say there will be a financial impact on the community and loss of employment for Hiawatha citizens. Hiawatha already has a gas station, which is owned by Hiawatha First Nation, at the Old Railroad Stop restaurant on the shore of Rice Lake. Gas station revenue funds infrastructure and educational programming at Hiawatha.
According to the builders, the station will hire up to nine locals at higher than minimum wage, the wholesaler will organize a holistic and recreational fund, along with a post-secondary educational grant fund, and will be branded Gen7, representing the next seven generations and their interest in supporting them.
“This is about the fear of competition, that’s all,” the owners’ flyer states.
Neither side sees a resolution at this point.
“I don’t know how it resolves itself,” Rogers said.
Carr added that she doesn’t know if the owners will stop the project.
“If they don’t turn around, we will block the road,” she said.
‘‘ The whole process has been disrespectful to chief and council and community. LAURIE CARR Hiawatha First Nation Chief
Community members gather Wednesday to block construction workers from getting into the site where a new gas station is being built in Hiawatha.
Hiawatha First Nation Chief Laurie Carr spoke with the OPP officers who blocked construction. She says the owners don’t have the right to build.