Akwesasne concerned Ottawa could raise bridge tolls to recoup pandemic-related losses

AKWESASNE – With the Seaway International Bridge between Cornwall, Akwesasne and New York State closed to non-essential traffic during the pandemic, Akwesasne is concerned there may be long-term economic consequences for the reserve.

Grand Chief Abram Benedict sent a letter to Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau this month outlining the First Nation’s concerns. It would like to see either a lower subsidized toll or “alternatively to cover it (the toll) completely, the toll facility could be removed in its entirety.”

The current toll is $3.75 Canadian or $3.00 American per one-way pass.

Roughly 70 per cent of the traffic across the bridges is from Akwesasne residents who don’t pay tolls, leaving the Seaway International Bridge Corporation to collect revenue from the remaining 30 per cent of travellers.

With the coronavirus pandemic, that 30 per cent has been greatly diminished.

In his letter, Benedict says a bridge toll increase would hinder attracting customers to local business and spectators to sporting events and cultural events.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Benedict is concerned the Federal Bridge Corporation may have to further hike tolls to live up to its mandate to collect enough tolls to cover operations.

“Our concern in a community is…the tolls will then again increase more to recover essentially the costs or the loss. What we’re saying to the minister is that we don’t want to have an impact by toll increases going forward and this just highlights that 70 per cent of traffic that uses this crossing regularly doesn’t pay so 30 per cent has to support it but now there’s no 30 per cent there anymore. There has to be a long term solution to the toll,” Benedict told Newswatch.

The grand chief adds that the fewer monetary restrictions to Akwesasne, the better it is for the entire region when it comes to shopping and tourism.

“We don’t want any increases at all, in fact, you know I’d like it to go down.”

Benedict is not concerned nor does he believe the federal government would ask Akwesasne residents to start paying.

Akwesasne will look to get their American counterparts – the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council – to send a similar letter to the U.S. government.

“This crossing is the only toll crossing that’s owned by Canada and the United States so there is an American component in here which makes it more of an anomaly,” Benedict said.