Issuing barge apology, Archie says communication must improve
The NWT’s infrastructure minister said communication must improve as she publicly apologized to Sachs Harbour for cancelling its annual barge shipment.
Like many of the territory’s communities, Sachs Harbour relies on an annual summer barge resupply trip to bring in bulk goods like food and fuel alongside large purchases made by community members.
Late last week, infrastructure minister Diane Archie said this season’s barge will not reach Sachs Harbour as conditions now prevent a safe crossing of the Amundsen Gulf to reach the Banks Island community.
In the NWT’s legislature on Monday, Archie said she had apologized to Sachs Harbour’s mayor and “would like to take this first opportunity to apologize to the residents and businesses in Sachs Harbour” for the cancellation.
The GNWT has begun exploring ways of getting food, fuel and other goods into the community, which ordinarily involves aircraft when a barge shipment fails.
However, Archie said that would mean some “hard conversations” with residents about oversized freight that should have arrived by barge.
“We’ll have those conversations with our customers and look at each case on merit and need … what can be delayed and what needs to get into Sachs Harbour,” the minister said.
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson, responding to that comment, said: “All freight has got to get into the community for the residents.”
Jacobson received a commitment from Archie that no additional costs would be passed on to the community and that the minister will meet with local leaders once a “post-mortem” has been conducted into what went wrong. Archie said she expected that meeting to take place early in the new year.
Asked about communication this summer – at no point until the cancellation did the territory’s Marine Transportation Services website indicate any problem – Archie said she knew things had to improve.
“The one thing that the department and MTS already have as a takeaway is the need for better communication with our customers and the general public, especially when circumstances result in a change to sailing schedules,” the minister told Jacobson.
“There were rumours started in the absence of regular updates from MTS.
“One of my priorities is making sure MTS is resourced to provide these updates next sailing season.”
Speaking earlier in the day, Jacobson – who represents Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk and Ulukhaktok – criticized what he argues is a backward set of priorities. He believes private contracts are pushing community resupply shipments later into the fall, heightening the risk of a cancellation.
Citing the GNWT’s 2018 barging difficulties, Jacobson told the legislature: “Four years later, we find ourselves in the same situation.”
He continued: “It is now October. Why is the GNWT waiting until the end of the barging season?
“How is it possible for the department to deliver on contracts all through the summer and NWT communities in the High Arctic pay the price?”
Archie said she was “committed to working with the member and community.”