EDITORIAL: Stage shipping from Tuk, not Hay River

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So much for jetskiing through the Northwest Passage. Wouldn’t you know it? Climate change be damned, the Arctic Ocean is still prone to freezing.

After decades of receding ice and lengthening shipping seasons, the cold has returned to the Arctic with a vengeance, putting in peril a year’s worth of supplies destined for coastal communities that rely on the annual barge run up the Mackenzie River.

The territorial government announced last week that the 2018 final barge of the season destined for Paulatuk, as well as Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut has been cancelled “due to impassable ice conditions.”

It remains to be seen how much of the scorn currently being heaped on the GNWT is actually deserved. It was only two years ago that the government rescued this crucial part of the Northern barging network from collapse after company owner NTCL fell into receivership. The government purchased the company’s assets for $7.5 million after it became apparent no one else was willing to step in and take over.

It was a necessary move as there really is no other way to resupply communities such as Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok except by barge.

Having the GNWT in the barging business is far from ideal. Its acquired service is not even the only barging outfit on the Mackenzie River. Cooper Barging Service has been hauling supplies to communities up and down the Mackenzie and Liard rivers for 70 years, but for whatever reason, the GNWT was left holding the bag.

Alas, two years in it has hit one enormous snag and now people in the affected communities who depend on the annual barge for everything from vehicles, snowmobiles to groceries have been left in the lurch.

The GNWT says there are plans in the works to deliver goods by aircraft, especially fuel and other essential goods, but that is hardly a certain and cost-effective solution for the people depending on supplies.

The fact of the matter is, despite colder than normal temperatures that have persisted in the North all summer long, the government’s Marine Transportation Services failed to anticipate the trouble brewing at the tail end of its shipping season.

It’s a shame because the government has just completed an important piece of infrastructure that should be able to assist in alleviating this very type of scenario – namely the $300 million Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

It doesn’t make much sense anymore to resupply High Arctic communities from Hay River when there is now road access to Beaufort Sea where supplies can be staged and ship earlier in the season. Tuk currently doesn’t have a deepwater port, but can handle smaller shipments, which might not be so uneconomical considering how much closer it is to Paulatuk and the Central Arctic.

Clearly too much has been given to chance, considering the warmer, longer seasons of late.

This will have to change next year if the government wants avoid another shipping fiasco in the Arctic where climate change can’t always be counted on to provide for clear sailing.

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