“The big message is the folks of the Sahtu shouldn’t worry—we’re on it,” says department spokesperson Greg Hanna.
This past messy ice road season, followed by low water levels for barging last year, has raised some concerns about the future of shipping in the NWT without an all-season road in place up the Mackenzie Valley.
Norman Wells Mayor Frank Pope told News/North he was concerned, not just for his town, but for communities throughout the Sahtu and on the Arctic coast, as weather becomes more unpredictable due to climate change.
This year’s season might not be back to normal either.
“This year there is some indication that the water may be a little bit lower, but having said that, we don’t anticipate that this is going to impact the barge deliveries,” says John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister of programs and services for the Department of Infrastructure.
Vandenberg says the department may make the decision to start the barge and tug season earlier, as data has shown a trend of higher water early in the season and lower water later.
Updated sailing schedules will be released as soon as they are firmed up.
The department is monitoring these changes very closely, says Vandenberg, in contact with Environment and Natural Resources as well as the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“I will say that it is important that we recognize the possibility that we are going to have, let’s say, unfortunate streaks of warm weather that affects the roads and that from time to time we will get lower water levels,” says Vandenberg.
He also said that 40 bridges have been built with more under construction, including one across the Great Bear River, both to strengthen the winter road system and make it more weather resistant as well as to have some infrastructure in place for an eventual all-season highway up the valley.
One particular concern raised by Pope was to do with fuel delivery, as many communities in the western NWT run primarily off diesel for power and heating.
Vandenberg says the department has extra fuel stored in several communities to the point that it could be used for its host communities as well as other communities in times of need.
As an example, he says both Fort Good Hope and Tulita have enough fuel that they could both have enough to run for a year and enough to share with Colville Lake and Deline, respectively, if need be.
“We try to keep our inventory levels of fuel so that if we are affected by a climactic change or weather change, if the winter road season becomes short, then we’re covered for that eventuality,” says Vandenberg.
He says the department’s asset management group is also doing a lot of work to address the challenges thawing permafrost is posing to NWT infrastructure, but News/North was unable to schedule an interview with someone involved in these activities by press time.