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Inuvik-Tuk highway approved
$299-million 127-km linking Beaufort Delta communities expected to bring 400 jobs to region

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 18, 2013

Four years from now, Tuktoyaktuk will be connected by road to the south for the first time - a milestone the community is celebrating.

Funding for the $299-million 137-km Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk all-weather highway has been approved by both the territorial and federal governments. The federal government will pay for two-thirds of the project, up to the current budget. The decision was made by the NWT legislative assembly during a committee of the whole meeting on March 11.

"It's going to mean so much for the community," Nunakput MLA and Speaker of the House Jackie Jacobson told News/North March 14 after the legislature had officially approved its capital infrastructure budget, which included the GNWT's $65 million contribution to construction of the road.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. "A lot of people like to talk about the oil and gas companies but I want to talk about the people and how it's going to affect them and the cost of living. It's going to make so much opportunities for our youth to travel."

Currently, four litres of milk costs between $22 and $24 in Tuk - and staples such as milk are often under-stocked at the grocery store, said Jacobson.

The road will connect Tuk to Inuvik year-round. Currently, there is an ice road up the East Arm of the Mackenzie River that connects the two communities for about five months of the year.

The rest of the time, many residents cannot leave their home community, said Tuktoyaktuk's Mayor Merven Gruben.

"For the most part, our people are scared of flying. I know I am, yet I do it just about every week - it's part of the job. It's just going to be so nice to jump in your truck and go any time you want," he told News/North.

In the summer, residents do have the option of making the 200-km journey down the Mackenzie River to Inuvik by boat, but Gruben said the journey is often rough and most don't risk it.

"Most Inuvialuit are scared of water," he said.

On March 14, the legislative assembly officially passed its budget amendments, meaning funding for construction will begin to flow and the project is officially on, said Transportation Minister David Ramsay.

"I think it's a really big deal. Canada is one of the last of the circumpolar countries to have road access to the Arctic Ocean," he told News/North.

To date, the GNWT has pledged $65 million - $5 million to be spent by the end of March and $60 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

Construction is expected to take about four years and will bring roughly 400 jobs to the region, he said.

Pushing though the project met with criticism, the bulk of which came from Yellowknife MLAs, who questioned whether it was wise to approve the project while construction plans are only 85 per cent complete.

"It's visions of the Deh Cho Bridge kerfuffle all over again," said Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, referring to early expectations of a $55-million bridge project that ballooned to $202 million before completion.

However, Ramsay said this project will be different.

"This time, we're managing the project from day one," he said.

Bromley and other Yellowknife MLAs also referenced concerns with gravel sources, as well as the yet-to-be-disclosed amount the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation will receive in gravel royalties and to purchase the land under the road.

All gravel resources have been secured, Gruben said.

"It's like they live in a box and there's nothing outside of it," he said of Yellowknife politicians. "They can pave a road to nowhere up the Ingraham Trail. I don't know how much money they've spent on that. Yet we can't even get a road to Tuk."

In terms of the amount of money the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation will receive in royalties and land-transfer agreements, Chair and CEO Nellie Cournoyea was adamant the IRC will not be waiving their fees.

"This is a public highway and the ownership of the highway is more than just a road, it's showing for Canada that we have a coast-to-coast-to-coast link," she said at a press conference in Yellowknife on March 12. "We have a lot of things going on offshore and it's very important for the Northwest Territories to look forward and say 'how are we going to get there?' One of the things we have to do as Inuvialuit to take out of the 71A lands a pathway that will become public lands - so we will lose those lands."

As Speaker of the House, Jacobson must remain impartial and could only make public comments on the highway after funding had been approved.

"Everybody has their own point of view. At the end of the day, we had 16 out of 18 votes for support and there was a lot of hard work done working with them to let this project go," he said. "It is tough when people are slamming, sometimes, my home community of Tuk."

However, now is a time for celebration in Tuk, he said. A community feast was planned for March 16 and was expected to draw people from all over the Beaufort Delta.

"Look where we're at now: I'm going home and people are working and people have got something to smile about," said Jacobson.

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