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GNWT sets out plan for Hay River emergency dredging

A photo posted to Facebook by Lynn Lepine shows barges on the water outside Hay River
A photo posted to Facebook by Lynn Lepine shows vessels on the water outside Hay River, one of which was reported to have been stranded on a sandbar, in the summer of 2022.

The NWT government is pressing ahead with plans for emergency dredging in Hay River this summer, but how it’ll be paid for remains unclear.

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.

More: Why won’t anyone help Hay River dredge?

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.



Now, the NWT government has issued tender documents to find a contractor to do the work between July and September this year.

Acknowledging that dredging work “has not been regularly maintained since 1997,” the GNWT, in those documents, says there is now an “emergency scenario” since safe navigation is no longer guaranteed.

“If boats cannot enter or exit the harbour, the supply for essential goods, and fuel for power and heat could be interrupted for up to 12 communities who rely on the sea barge system,” one document states.

The territory is proposing that two pieces of dredging take place this summer: the first section would be shipping lanes right at the harbour’s edge, heading into Great Slave Lake, and the second would be three “fingers” of the East Channel that are considered high-traffic areas.



A GNWT map shows, in red, the areas proposed for dredging this summer. The yellow dots are proposed environmental monitoring locations, while blue and purple boxes show soil storage areas.

The cost of the work was not made clear.

In a written response to Cabin Radio last week, the Department of Infrastructure said it would not give even a range for the anticipated cost “as we are actively within the tendering process where we are seeking competitive bids for the project.”

Asked where the funding would come from, the department reiterated its earlier plan to seek federal cash, but gave no update on that application other than to say that it awaits news from Transport Canada – and “discussions have also been ongoing” with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada “about the urgency of this work and how it can assist the GNWT with it.”

The GNWT proposes an eventual channel 30 metres wide by 2.4 metres deep. The excavated sediment would be stored on Vale Island at first. The documents state the GNWT hopes it can eventually “be considered soil … and made available for public use, if appropriate” or else transferred to some other final resting place.

In all, the project would shift 84,000 cubic metres of sediment, if it goes ahead.