There will be no immediate help from the GNWT’s Department of Infrastructure for those who are without vehicles or for businesses that take on extra expense due to the airlift that is replacing sealift.
“I guess what I’m saying here is there’s no additional compensation for delays for people’s businesses,” said John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Infrastructure, in an interview on Tuesday.
Although the GNWT is prioritizing food and personal effects, it will consider moving building supplies “as soon as possible” to try to accommodate businesses that have contract deadlines to meet, Vandenberg said.
The GNWT will transport snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles via the airlift, but not cars, trucks and heavy equipment.
When asked about the possibility of arranging for alternative vehicles for residents of Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk who are enduring hardship without the cars and trucks they ordered on the last Marine Transportation Service (MTS) barge due into the Kitikmeot that was cancelled in early October, Vandenberg replied, “We haven’t considered it at this time. That’s all I can say right now.”
Although Summit Air was the successful bidder on the GNWT’s airlift contract – awarded at $1.75 million – other airlines will be used if and when needed to keep the close to 700 tonnes of cargo flowing, Vandenberg said. The GNWT is aiming to have the airlift, consisting of an estimated 70 to 100 flights, wrapped up by Christmas, he added. The first load into the Kitikmeot is due in Cambridge Bay on Thursday.
Explaining the delays that prevented the MTS barge from getting into the Kitikmeot in late August, as originally scheduled, Vandenberg said about 10 days were lost when a large amount of driftwood knocked out the shipping buoys on the Mackenzie River. Another hold up came while waiting a couple of weeks for fuel, destined for Paulatuk and other communities, to be delivered to MTS in Hay River, Vandenberg added.
“You get into a few things like that and, you know, things start to move into September,” he said, adding that staff at the Canadian Ice Service didn’t forecast any navigation issues later in the month. “They predicted an ice-free September. So you can imagine with an ice-free September we weren’t sweating about getting through our work… and then it just became a ripple effect from there.”
Vandenberg visited Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk over the past week to meet with those affected. He said people are frustrated but have been “very polite.”
“We know we’re not going to make everybody happy but we’re going to do our best here,” he said. “We have a non-negotiable bill of lading and it does say, like any carrier, if the freight doesn’t get in, it doesn’t get in and we bring it later. But in this case it’s not so much Marine Transportation Services stepping up, it’s really the Government of the Northwest Territories, recognizing that this is a human being thing, this is a people thing.”
The extraordinary ice conditions may “just sound like excuses” but Vandenberg said his department will examine the situation very closely next year.
“If we’re getting into a different ice environment, we’re going to have to set up different sailing schedules to cope with it,” he said. “Now that we’ve run into this problem, we certainly are going to have to rethink how we’re going to leave, from where and when.”
To improve customer service in the near-term, the GNWT is planning to have toll-free numbers available for barge customers by Thursday. There will be dedicated personnel responsible for each of Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk and Paulatuk, NWT, according to Vandenberg.