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Customs facility design delayed

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Hopes of having concrete plans for a new Canada Customs facility in Fort Frances by the end of summer are dashed after a meeting yesterday between the town and local MP Robert Nault.

Nault, who also met with Abitibi-Consolidated here yesterday, originally thought the architectural designs and drawings had been approved by Revenue Canada, Abitibi-Consolidated, and the Town of Fort Frances--and that all that was left to do was co-ordinate the funding.

But Nault said he quickly realized things were not as “cut and dry” after sitting down with town reps.

“The town has never officially come out and sanctioned the site,” he said, noting its only function so far seems to have been providing the mill with infrastructure information.

“There obviously is an co-operation on all sides to get this facility built but we’re not all of the view that the site Abitibi-Consolidated has picked is the preferred option of the town,” Nault added.

“I’ve asked council to give me in the next week their [preferred] site location,” he continued. “I think it’s unfortunate the town hasn’t been brought into the loop the way I expected they should be.”

The mill’s preferred site for a new Customs facility--near Mowat Avenue--would see one-way traffic east on Church Street, Nault said, and would require the transfer of land and more than $2 million in infrastructure costs, with roads closed and some utilities re-routed.

And all heavy truck traffic would end up running down Scott Street since the proposed site would cut off the current truck route, he added.

“If we were to accept the site location as is without modifications, all we’d be doing is transferring all traffic problems on the bridge to the downtown core,” Nault said. “I’m not interested in transferring traffic jams from the bridge to another site in the community.

“I was quite surprised of the site location and all the infrastructure difficulties this may cause,” he admitted.

Nault said he doesn’t know why the mill wants the Mowat Avenue location for the new Customs facility, noting it seems “there has not been a lot of dialogue in the community” on the subject.

“No one has been able to answer the question, ‘Why not choose the site right in front of the mill?’” Nault said, referring to the block of land along Central Avenue that includes the tourism information centre and Abitibi-Consolidated’s training centre and parking lot.

“That whole centre block is owned by Abitibi-Consolidated,” he noted. “There would be no exchange of land [and] that would necessitate no infrastructure development.”

Nault said he would like to see some open houses and public consultations on the matter before any final decisions are made. In the meantime, it’s clear the original timeline of perhaps starting to build the new facility in late summer or early fall is out.

“We’re not at the level where we could honestly and seriously say this thing will be ready by the end of August,” he noted.

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