Northern leaders talk infrastructure

Moving towards building new northern infrastructure, from roads and ports to mines and pipelines, was the subject of a two-day infrastructure conference that wrapped up Thursday in Yellowknife.

Moving toward building new northern infrastructure, from roads and ports to mines and pipelines, was the subject of a two-day conference that wrapped up Thursday in Yellowknife.

The first annual Strategic Northern Infrastructure Symposium brought together business, government and finance leaders, in the hopes of making progress on dozens of infrastructure projects that have been mostly talked about for decades.

"I fully accept and understand that we're not going to solve this overnight. We do want to take this discussion to the other ends of the North, if you will," organizer Brendan Bell told CBC News.

"We'd like to work with groups in both Whitehorse and Iqaluit, and hopefully Anchorage, to have similar types [of] discussions in those jurisdictions about how we might collaborate and share resources. But there is going to be some role, obviously, for government as the people who can bring people together to drive some of this."

Federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl urged northern government and business delegates to agree on a few key priorities on infrastructure, adding that Ottawa will eventually come through with support.

"Infrastructure really does underpin both the social and economic development prospects in the North," Strahl told delegates Wednesday night.

"What we need after all this chatter that we've had … is an action plan on how to move forward."

What is less clear is what those infrastructure priorities will be: there is already a long list of potential big projects, such as developing a port in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., building a road up the Mackenzie Valley, and a series of hydroelectric projects.

Airships flying Houston to Inuvik

Some argue that the creative use of technology can make big projects cheaper. For example, Ric Bolivar of Ryfan Wind Inc. said there is tremendous commercial potential for wind power at remote minesites.

"Up in the tundra, it's incredible," Bolivar said. "Wind engineers are flabbergasted at how good the regime is there."

Another delegate, Stuart Russell of northern logistics company BBE, said airships will be used to move freight to projects in about five years from now.

"It is the type of machine that … on paper today, can load cargo and fly it long-haul. They say they can fly it from Houston to Inuvik with a full load of a payload, whatever that is," he said.

"They can set the payload down on the ground and then they can hover like a helicopter and then come back and pick up half that weight and take it offshore."

Despite the conference's push on moving northern infrastructure beyond talk, some skeptics remain, said Bolivar.

"Other people I've been talking to outside the conference are saying, 'Yeah, we've been hearing this forever. We want to hear the how,'" he said.

The Northwest Territories government invested about $30,000 into this week's conference. Premier Floyd Roland spoke at the event, and government representatives were in attendance.

Other territorial leaders who attended included Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie and Peter Taptuna, Nunavut's minister of economic development and transportation.