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A bumpy road, but Heart Lake makes it.

Six years ago, a truck stop was opened on the Heart Lake reserve in northern Alberta. At the time, opening the business was a big step for members of the community, but it was only a first step in realizing a larger goal, a bigger truck stop built at a prime location that would serve a greater number of people.

"It was too small," said economic development officer Ken Staples. "It worked for awhile, but we were missing out on a lot of business."

It didn't take long for negotiations to begin with Indian Affairs and the provincial government to move the truck stop to a location 54 kilometres north of Lac La Biche on Hwy 881.

"This corner here was a far better site," said Staples. "There was better access, more traffic. It just made more sense."

Not only did it make sense, it gave Alberta Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Al-Pac) a vested interest in the project.

"The truck stop was designated a wrapper station by Al-Pac," said Staples. That means that all the company's trucks have to stop there for load wrappers to be checked and secured.

While the development seemed to be a perfect opportunity for the band, the land swap from the old truck stop location to the new had its difficulties. Indian Affairs had failed to finish some necessary paperwork when they traded some reserve land for a larger piece of property down the road.

"They had needed a sliver of reserve property for building a road," said Staples. "Essentially we had traded one piece of property for another." But the paperwork had never been filed and that had to be done before Heart Lake could continue with their truck stop project.

By May 2003 the paperwork was cleared and work was set to begin on the site. That's when Heart Lake found out the soil wasn't stable enough for construction.

"The soil wasn't as good as we thought it was. It wasn't weight bearing," said Staples. So, they had to strip two feet of the soil off the land and replace it with a solid base. "It took a little longer and cost more money, but it was money well spent."

By October 2003 construction was about 75 per cent complete, but the band had run out of funding.

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"We had to wait for additional funding and for road blocks with Indian Affairs to be resolved," he said. It took another year-and-a-half to get the funding needed to complete the project, but by that time the building was in need of repair.

"As anyone can imagine, a building that sits without heat or power for a year-and-a-half will need repairs," said Staples.

On Oct. 5, Heart Lake finally celebrated the completion of the project with a grand opening of the facility that includes a convenience store and gas pumps.

Four chiefs, including Morris Monias from Heart Lake, were there for the big event, along with about 30 other project supporters.

George Arcand was there to represent Indian Affairs and he was just as enthusiastic as the rest of the crowd.

"I can't believe the government screwed up," he joked referring to the paperwork that was never filed. "It's not like us to make mistakes."

Future plans for the truck stop include a rest area, card lock gas pumps and a restaurant.

The band received funding for the project from Indian Affairs, Peace Hills Trust and Al-Pac.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Expansion
Author:Cooper, Shara J.J.
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:574
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