A river dredger on BC's Fraser River near the mouth of Steveston Harbour. Vismax/Dreamstime
The NWT government says an application to Ottawa for Hay River dredging cash will be submitted this week. If federal money arrives, work could start this summer.
The issue of dredging in Hay River’s harbour has been on the table for years. Various branches of government have said the issue is not their responsibility, or they have no money to fund it.
In the meantime, barges are dragged through silt, boats are damaged, and fishers say the shallow water is hard to safely navigate. In August last year, two barges became stuck in the channel leading to Great Slave Lake.
Critics say decades have passed since the harbour – a critical part of the NWT’s transportation system, which relies on barges to ferry goods to northern communities – was adequately dredged.
Responding to questions from Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson on Tuesday, infrastructure minister Diane Archie said the NWT government would submit a formal request for funding this week.
Bathymetric surveys suggest around 200,000 cubic metres of sediment “needs to be looked at,” Archie told the legislature.
“We have developed an application for multi-year federal funding to restore the harbour,” she said, adding the projected cost of that work was in the millions of dollars and did not include “ongoing funding to maintain the channel and the harbour into the future.”
“We’re submitting by the end of this week,” she added.
Archie said she had met with federal transport minister Omar Alghabra in December to press the case, and would pick up the issue with him at another set of meetings in Ottawa next week. “This is a critical need,” she said.
If money arrives, the territory will still need the relevant regulatory approvals and permits to begin work.
“Approvals will take months,” Archie acknowledged, but she expressed optimism that – in a best-case scenario – workers could begin dredging as early as mid-July and have a “small channel” cleared by September.
Simpson, reflecting on the looming breakup season with tongue in cheek, suggested a backup plan.
“Let us hope that if no dredging takes place this year, the ice – as it moves through the channel – scours the bottom of the river,” he said, “and gives us the six feet that we need to get marine vessels safely through.”