The territorial government has cancelled barge resupply services for Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, and Paulatuk – where residents say "shelves are becoming bare."
In a tweet that has since been deleted, the Department of Infrastructure said this morning its Marine Transportation Services (MTS) barge deliveries to the communities had “been cancelled due to impassable ice.”
The department indicated it is making plans to deliver essential goods by air. Customers expecting non-essential goods are waiting for MTS to explain what will happen to their deliveries.
Paulatuk Mayor Ray Ruben said his community was never given a clear delivery date, besides an original forecast for the barge to arrive in early September.
While he’s unsure of the reason for the shifting date, he said the community is already feeling the impacts of the delayed delivery.
"Now it's a reactive mode we're in,” he said.
“I’m on my way to Inuvik to hopefully get together with our MLA [Herb Nakimayak], and we're trying to snag the Minister of Transportation, and we heard yesterday that the Premier is in Inuvik on other business so hopefully we can pull him in to help.”
Ruben is hopeful he can work with other politicians to get goods into his community quickly, without Paulatuk having to absorb the expensive cost of goods delivered by plane.
"I'd heard they do have plans for the delivery of the fuel and those supplies, but at this point that's all we've been told,” he continued.
“I’ve been gathering information from our community about what it means to a lot of our people who are expecting something on the barge, even personal stuff like quads and things they need to harvest.
“That's a big issue If they don't get their equipment, they are unable to harvest. There's a handful of them stranded in town with no equipment.
"Our shelves are becoming bare to the bone,” he said, adding he went to buy flour recently and could find none.
Only half-joking, he said, “One of the big things around the community is that there is no pop.”
One frustrated resident wrote on Facebook: “All my hard work, planning, ordering, phone calls, to make sure everything I needed for my restaurant was on that barge, down the drain... just like that!”
Ruben hopes warmer weather and wind next week will blow some ice out of the bay, allowing the barge to get in.
“We'll cross our fingers," he said.
MTS has been operated by the territory for the past two years, following a government bail-out of former supplier Northern Transportation Company Limited in 2016.
The territorial government said it was working on a public notice regarding the barge cancellation, but was not able to provide any further information by late on Tuesday afternoon.
Hercules on fire
Ruben added this isn’t the first time a barge has been unable to reach the community.
In 1982, he explained, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport plane was flown in to deliver fuel.
“The Herc had landed on the ice just in the middle of the bay, and the whole thing caught on fire and went down in flames,” he remembered.
“It was pumping out the fuel into our holding tanks and the pump caught on fire.”
It was Easter Sunday, and many people were at church. Word spread quickly: "People started talking talking of a fire down below in the bay where they were offloading.”
The plane was destroyed, but the community of Paulatuk salvaged the tail. It is still used today as a coastline marker.