When Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning for Tuktoyaktuk’s east channel region March 13, Mayor Erwin Elias knew that was just the beginning of problems for the hamlet that weekend.
He was right. As the weather system set in the following evening, residents held up in their homes suddenly had a new problem. At approximately 9:30 p.m. March 14, winds knocked out a power line, causing power outages throughout the community.
Elias said that at one point during the weekend, the entire community was without power with temperatures fluctuating between -6 and -26 C.
“As soon as the wind picked up, the power went off,” he said. “The infrastructure here is terrible with the power lines. At one point in time the whole town had been without power. Some sections would go off and come on; the power would come on and off all night.
“I think there were some people who were without power for 20 hours. Our saving grace is was the temperature was really mild. But regardless, if there’s a power outage for that long it doesn’t matter what the weather is. Some buildings froze up. We had elders sitting at home in the cold.”
Mangilaluk School became a temporary warming shelter for residents March 15 with the hamlet operating a shuttle service for elders. Residents, Elias included, went door-to-door to ensure everyone was aware of the situation, as many were without internet during the outage. Power was finally restored 5:30 p.m.
While the power outage was significant, this was not the first time the hamlet has gone through this. And Elias says he’s getting sick of it.
“Last year, and I know previous councils before us have gone through this too, we ran into a situation with the power corp where we had a power outage. At that point we made it really clear that everybody knew we were going to have a storm. There was a blizzard warning that everyone knew about,” he said. “We told the power corp if there’s ever a blizzard warning in the future, they should be here a day in advance. We suggested they come a day or two early before the storm and just hang out here. The infrastructure is so poor, as soon as we had a light wind the wires were touching and blowing all over the place and that’s what caused the power to go out. Then we had to wait for the storm to die down for the lineman to come into town.
“I don’t know what you say to these people because this is a serious matter for the community. Long ago, when a storm was coming, the people knew what to do and would prepare. Now we’re living in a government environment, in a housing unit and when the power goes out no one is really prepared anymore.”
An emergency plane was dispatched by NWT Power Corporation to repair the fallen lines; however it was delayed due to weather conditions. Work began on the repairs on the evening of March 15 and power was restored 5:42 p.m.
NTPC communications manager Doug Prendergast said the lineman was dispatched from Inuvik, but was delayed because the storm made flying impossible and the highway itself was closed due to strong winds.
Elias maintained the weather report gave plenty of notice to fly someone in in the event they had to. He questioned why the hamlet’s request to Northwest Territories Power Corporation is being ignored.
“They’ve got the lineman in Inuvik. We’ve got the highway. They knew a storm was coming and this has been going on for years and years before the highway and everything,” he said. “Even the housing corp, I don’t understand why they don’t invest in generators that can put some power on people’s houses for an hour or so to keep them going. There’s nothing in place for this and the government has to wake up.
“There are warnings out there that prepare people for this, they’re fairly accurate — every time we’ve had blizzard warning we get a good wind here — and they have same internet that we do. If they’re not going to station anybody here, they should do a full retro on the infrastructure. They got loose wires and wires that are low. Any kind of wind that comes up shuts the power out right away.”
Prendergast said that line workers are paired for safety reasons and that it was impossible to predict where breaks in the line system would occur.
“NTPC requires that lineworkers work as a pair at all times, which reflects best practice in the utility industry. Plant operators are not trained to support a lineworkers in the event of an incident at height,” he said. “Lineworkers for the Beaufort Region are based in Inuvik and dispatched as needed to communities in the region. When a storm is forecast, NTPC does not know whether or where line repair might be needed. If a crew were stationed to one community in anticipation of a storm but line damage occurs in another community, the community that needs support will be unable to receive it.
“NTPC is confident that its current operating procedures provide the best level of service to all of the communities in the Beaufort.”