Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann pledged his government will not pass the cost of a cancelled barge on to residents of Paulatuk, Cambridge Bay, and Kugluktuk.

The barge – carrying essential goods like fuel and food alongside dozens of trucks, quads, boats, and skidoos upon which harvesters were relying – abandoned its trip owing to what the territory calls ‘unprecedented’ ice.

Vital goods will be flown to the communities instead. The fate of non-essential goods this season will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

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“We’re working on the cost right now,” explained Schumann. “We will have to find it within the government’s organization.”

Paulatuk Mayor Ray Ruben said the community originally expected its delivery in early September. Schumann told Cabin Radio the ice made logistics difficult.

“This is unprecedented, multi-year ice. The largest icebreaker in the fleet could barely get through there. A tug and barge situation was not appropriate to go in there, it would probably just end up crushing our outfit,” said Schumann.

“The other thing people haven’t been talking about is the climate change issue – it doesn’t just affect our infrastructure, we’re starting to see multi-year ice come down and affect our shipping system.

“We have three pilots, with over 100 years’ experience, and they said they haven’t seen anything like this for 30 years. We’re going to have to pay a little closer attention. Maybe we change how we operate that system.”

In Inuvik, the territory’s Marine Transportation Services division has set up secure heated and cold storage for goods as it determines next steps.

“We are reaching out to the communities as we speak. We are looking at procuring some aircraft to haul fuel into Paulatuk, which is going to be our number one priority,” said Schumann.

“We are going to get in gasoline to the other three communities, because there’s a bit of a shortage of that. Then, on a commodity-by-commodity basis, we’re going to prioritize what we get into communities.”

Despite a significant lag time between cancellation of the barge and the issuing of a territorial public notice alongside information about next steps, Schumann suggested his government was handling the issue better than a private operator would.

He said: “If this was a private company, they would just say, ‘OK, you’ve got insurance on your freight if you bought it. The rest of you, where do you want us to put your stuff?’ And it would wait till next season.

“I’m glad the GNWT owns this asset.”