Communities ‘cross fingers’ barge season continues smoothly
The territorial government says this year’s barging season is on-schedule as communities which saw shipments cancelled last year hope everything runs smoothly this time.
Minister of Infrastructure Wally Schumann said barges run by the government-owned Marine Transportation Services (MTS) are operating well so far in 2019. “Substantial contingency” was included in the schedule, Schumann said on August 14.
The NWT government is monitoring water and ice conditions with help from the Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Ice Service.
Paulatuk’s mayor, Raymond Ruben Sr, said scheduled delivery dates have changed by a few days this summer. He says that is far better than in the past five years, when deliveries were delayed for a month or more.
Last fall, the NWT government cancelled shipments to Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk and Paulatuk due to impassable conditions in the Amundsen Gulf.
Shortly after the cancellation was made public, Schumann survived a no-confidence vote in the legislative assembly largely brought on by the failure to re-supply the three communities.
MTS has been run by the territorial government since late 2016, when it purchased the bankrupt Northern Transportation Company Limited.
Schumann said MTS has a new customer service position meant to provide information about the progress of the barges and answer questions from the public.
Jim MacEachern, assistant chief administrative officer for Cambridge Bay, told Cabin Radio this is a good move and said MTS has been “very responsive.”
‘It was a challenge’
Northern NWT and western Nunavut communities are still recovering from the failure of deliveries to arrive last year.
Goods the communities required right away, such as groceries and fuel, were eventually flown up, said Ruben Sr. Larger items like vehicles, construction equipment, pieces of buildings, and municipal infrastructure did not make it.
Ruben Sr said major pieces of equipment did not arrive until this summer, which pushed back important construction of roads and drainage. The latter is a particular concern for residential areas of Paulatuk.
While houses haven’t flooded, some access roads have – and water that won’t drain has built up into many ponds which pose a safety hazard, Ruben Sr said.
“In the spring and summer [when the snow] melts, we get a lot of water ponding right in and around the residential areas,” he said. “So we had kids floating on styrofoam and whatever they could find to play because there was so many ponds all over the houses.
“Knock on wood, we’ve never had any major accidents or anything because of those ponds.”
If goods had arrived last fall, the project would have started in June. Now Ruben Sr said the hamlet will “squeeze in” the priority projects between now and freeze-up, and continue with the rest next season.
“Hopefully we’re able to use the rest of the summer or early fall to get some of those done now that our equipment is in,” he said.
Cambridge Bay has a significant number of vehicles coming for its municipal services fleet, including sewer, water, and garbage trucks which couldn’t be delivered last year. The community is also expecting several pickup trucks, a grader, and another set of water and sewage trucks, a new order for this year.
With the delivery cancelled last fall, the community has had to keep older vehicles on the road. “There’s no question it was a challenge,” MacEachern said. The older vehicles had to be serviced, leading to fewer vehicles out working and delays for residents.
“For the most part, you’re talking hours. There were two occasions throughout the year where water trucks were down longer as they had to wait on parts to come in,” MacEachern said. “Instead of having three trucks to serve the community, we’re down to two. So we had to double-shift, bring in a second crew and units, just to try to stay ahead and keep up.”
Businesses were also affected by the cancelled barge traffic. Kugluktuk’s Coppermine Inn had around $20,000-worth of goods delayed last fall.
Irene Horn, who owns and manages the inn together with Kerry Horn, said the NWT government ended up flying in the groceries they had ordered. The wait didn’t impact the business too much, Horn said, as stored cases of canned goods carried them over until the flight came in.
Barges are set to arrive in the communities starting this week.
“Fingers crossed. I’m sure it will [go well] this year because they’re making an extra effort,” Horn said. “They had a lot of stuff that was left over in Inuvik, like trucks and lumber and you name it … so they will make an extra effort this year, they said. We believe them. We trust them that they’ll come in.”
“We’re hoping that all three barges make it in this year and there’s no impact on our community and our economy like there was last year,” MacEachern said. Cambridge Bay has one barge coming from MTS and two others from eastern Arctic-based companies.
Schumann said his government has also applied for money from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to study impacts of climate change on marine services in the Beaufort Delta.
That study, if it goes ahead, is expected to recommend ways to improve operations and infrastructure.