The GNWT will pick up the costs associated with a massive airlift that will replace the cancelled barge service to Paulatuk and the Nunavut communities of Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay.
The NWT government made the announcement on Oct. 4, a week after it was determined that the last barge of the season carrying critical supplies couldn’t make it to the communities due to thickening ice.
The GNWT’s Department of Infrastructure called upon the Canadian Coast Guard on Sept. 27 but was informed that not even the highest class icebreaker in the Coast Guard’s fleet could break through the ice, according to Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann.
The priority airlift item will be diesel fuel for Paulatuk, likely followed by food for grocery stores, Schumann said. Vehicles, however, will not be put on planes, he said. The goods left behind in Inuvik will remain in a secure, heated warehouse that the GNWT took over when it purchased assets formerly belonging to Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL), which became insolvent in 2016.
The minister said he doesn’t know how much the delivery by air will cost the government and when asked where the money will come from, he replied, “We’ll worry about that when it comes. My worry right now is the people.”
Residents in the Beaufort Delta and Kitikmeot regions expressed outrage over the situation earlier last week.
Ray Ruben, mayor of Paulatuk, first got word of the cancellation on Sept. 30 from Merven Gruben, mayor of Tuktayoktuk, and Herbert Nakimayak, MLA for Beaufort Delta.
Ruben posted the announcement on his Facebook page later that day and several community members expressed disappointment and anger.
Aside from food and fuel, other items like snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles to help people with harvesting will be delayed, Ruben said.
Schumann said he couldn’t explain why the barge’s sailing date was delayed by a couple of weeks. It may have been related to not having a crew ready or the Coast Guard not getting its buoys in place in time, he suggested. It was not, however, due to commitments to resupply TMAC’s Hope Bay gold project or Sabina Gold & Silver’s Back River project, Schumann insisted.
“People are focusing on that maybe a little bit too much,” he said. “It’s not like we had one boat running around, we had five ships delivering freight all over the place.”
He added, “I’m a business guy. When you put up a date, it’s going to be tentative anywhere, subject to conditions, and this is a condition that happened with an unprecedented amount of sea ice coming down.”
The minister said he doesn’t expect this situation will result in a loss of business for MTS next year. A private sealift company wouldn’t come to the aid of customers without shipping insurance like MTS is doing, he asserted.
“We’re taking an unprecedented step to try to look after these people in these communities and get in the goods,” he said. “That’s what governments do. We look after the people, that’s our job.”
The GNWT will continue to run the barging service for at least a couple more years to gather data, according to Schumann.
“When we get enough information after a few years of operation and get this thing stabilized, we’ll have a look at if we’ll make it a Crown corporation, or have a private entity run it on our behalf or are we going to sell it or will we continue to run it through (the department of) Infrastructure.”
Inuvialuit Regional Corporation responds to barge cancellation
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation called on the GNWT and Government of Canada to invest more money into Northern infrastructure projects after the annual barge delivering supplies was cancelled last week.
The IRC issued a news release last Thursday stating the cancellation of the barge due to ice conditions proves there is a greater need to put more money and attention to physical upgrades in the far North, including additional security to marine transportation corridors, a deep-water port in Tuktoyaktuk, and other Northern Coast Guard assets.
“Both fuel and supplies to the hamlet of Paulatuk, and vital supplies to our cousins in the Kiktikmeot region continue to be stranded due to poor planning and lack of sufficient resources to tackle our changing Northern climate,” stated Duane Smith, chair and CEO of the IRC in the news release.
“The issues with the sealift demonstrate the logistical problems that plague Northern construction projects.”
The IRC further pointed out that the National Snow and Ice Data Centre showed in late September that ice levels were at one of the lowest points in 40 years and that crusise ship tourism and trade continue to increase in the area.