Paulatuk Mayor Ray Ruben Sr. estimates that it has almost been a month since his community received a substandard fuel shipment from the Government of Northwest Territories.
His hamlet is one of three fly-in communities — including Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok — relying on the fuel. The current incident follows one last year, where barge service was cancelled to the communities because of fuel issues.
Since this year’s troubles began, Ruben said he’s spoken to incumbent Nunakput MLA Herbert Nakimayak.
Meanwhile, planes continue to make room in their cargo for the return fuel home. As a result, he said the planes have been forced to make multiple flights. Groceries and freight supplies for the community aren’t fully affected so far, he said.
“If anyone’s going to feel it, it’s going to be Aklak Air,” he said, referencing the airline that services the communities.
“I just know we’re not as loud as we should be,” he said. “Maybe our leaders should be speaking out a bit louder at the government. We’re sitting back and waiting and waiting and waiting.”
“We’ve got to step up on this and start demanding,” he said.
Ruben said he thinks MLA candidates should consider the issues around service delivery.
For him, “(GNWT is) not giving us 100 per cent service.”
Nakimayak agreed fuel issues were a concern, especially for remote communities.
“It’s a concern for everybody about the lack of fresh food, and mail and supplies that comes to communities,” he said. “It definitely affects the operations and logistics of Aklak Air.”
“Not only is the airline losing money, but constituents in communities are the ones paying for it,” Nakimayak said.
He explained that he was in contact with Buffalo Airways, who were in Ulukhaktok this week before arriving at the other remote communities.
“We’re aware of this and we’re trying to give guidance and help where we can get help on this issue.”
He said it was negatively impacting the community similarly to last year, and the issue had to be caught before “it gets out of control and something bad happens.”
“We’re doing better, but we need to ensure that these problems that keep recurring are dealt with,” he said, explaining he wanted to work backwards and find exactly where issue arose.
One of his challengers for MLA, Alisa Blake, said the issue “is extremely serious and … needs to be addressed with high importance.”
She noted residents depend on aviation to leave and enter the communities,receive groceries or supplies, and for emergency medical treatment by air.
Blake said, “the best way to tackle these concerns is to work very closely with the distributor, aircraft operators, fixed base operators as well as the Minister of Transportation.” She said understanding the quality assurance and testing procedures for the fuel as it’s shipped to airline and communities was key.
However, she acknowledged there may be a “communication breakdown,” considering the number of individuals involved in the process. “(As) well as a fact that some may believe that one or more people will not need to know the minute details about the quality and assurance process that the distributor, aircraft operators, fixed base operators, etc. must follow to ensure that fuel contamination is less likely to happen.”
Another contender, Jackie Jacobson, said fuel quality is a “lifeline” and “a major concern (for) all the remote communities.”
If elected, Jacobson promised to “ensure the government supplies high quality, proper spec fuel and it is and delivered in a timely manner by MTS or other carriers. (And to) ensure proper testing regimes are in place prior to delivery of products to the remote communities not after the product arrives.”
He said the government should keep “its eye on the communities” and give them first priority in commercial business opportunities, while also providing delivery schedules well in advance of open water season.
Jacobson further suggested a strategic fuel supply off the coast to draw on if service is interrupted.
“Fuel and gasoline supplies are the lifeline for the communities and timely deliveries and proper spec products are a must,” he said.