The Town of Hay River has been saddled with $1.3 million in unpaid back taxes and lease payments from defunct shipping company NTCL, and is asking the territorial government, which took over many of the company's assets in December, to help find a way to pay the bills.

"We need to kind of question the government and figure out how they can help lobby to see if the NTCL group can find some means to pay it, or figure out a way to come up with other means to come up with our funds," says mayor Brad Mapes.

"Our town can't handle a hit like that."

When NTCL declared bankruptcy in December, Hay River was among the creditors waiting to be paid.

Mapes says he is grateful that the government stepped in to keep the barges running this summer, because otherwise, "our town's economy would be very bleak."

But he has been meeting with ministers to try to convince them to come through financially for the town as well.

"Obviously our community is underfunded as per MACA's guidelines, already, and for our town to be hit with a $1.3 million hit like that, it's tough to swallow," he says.

"And we won't swallow it."

The government, however, told the CBC it bought the assets — not the debt.

The Department of Infrastructure says it is still working out exactly what it bought in December, and what liabilities might be attached to that purchase.

"We are now working to complete a full inventory and review of the properties purchased," a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.

It says the process will take years.

"This is a big job. It will take time."

NTCL barrels

Some of the NTCL lands purchased by the territorial government could contain contaminated soil or buildings. The territory says it's hoping to pass some of the cleanup costs on to the federal government. (photo courtesy Mark Lyon)

The government could be on the hook for the costs of leasing and cleaning up properties all over the territory, some of which could be contaminated after decades of industrial use. But the territory says it is hoping to pass some of those costs on to the federal government.

None of the NTCL properties in Hay River had security deposits on them to protect taxpayers from inheriting the cost of cleanup.