N.W.T. gov't commits to airlifting some cargo affected by barge cancellation
Officials say 600,000 L of diesel for Paulatuk, N.W.T, is top priority, other cargo to follow
The Northwest Territories government is committing to an airlift involving possibly more than 100 flights in order to get as much cargo as possible to three Arctic communities affected by cancelled barge service — but is stopping short of saying everything will arrive.
This week, the government announced it cancelled barge service to Paulatuk N.W.T., the western Nunavut communities of Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, and a Nunavut gold mine due to extreme ice conditions.
"It's our sealift, and it's our responsibility to reach out and make this right," said John Vandenberg, an assistant deputy minister with the Infrastructure Department. "We're here to get the cargo in as much as we can."
Hundreds of tonnes of cargo destined for the three communities is in a storage warehouse in Inuvik, with government officials determining a priority order for being airlifted to its destination, he said.
About 600,000 litres of diesel for Paulatuk is at the top of the list, but the cargo includes groceries and other items that people need over the winter.
"We know building materials are important to people, groceries are important to people," he said. "We know hunters are going to want their ATVs and snowmobiles and we want to do that. We're looking at larger things, but it's based on availability of air transport."
Officials are looking to hire the planes that will be involved in the airlift, and Vandenberg could not provide an estimate for how much this would cost. But, he says it will be paid out of revenues already earned by the government's Marine Transportation Service.
"This [airlift] will not have an affect on other [government] programs whatsoever," he said. "This is a business activity within the government. It's self-funded and as such this will be funded by the business activity of the Marine Transportation Services."
There's been confusion over the past few days about exactly how much cargo scheduled to reach those communities would arrive via airlift.
Vandenberg initially said Wednesday the government committed flying in 600,000 litres of diesel fuel to Paulatuk was the main priority, but noted some equipment such as pickup trucks and heavy equipment wouldn't be flown up.
On Thursday, Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann also committed to flying in fuel, but again stopped short of saying all the cargo would be delivered by air.
"We can't solve everyone's problems. That's quite clear. We're trying to do the best we can. I don't think we're going to be [using a Hercules aircraft] all these vehicles and that sorts of stuff," he said.
"That's the challenge of living in the North."
See Schumann's interview with Northbeat host Juanita Taylor
But Vandenberg was also quoted in a Nunatsiaq News article Thursday saying a "massive" airlift was planned, confusing the situation for people waiting for cargo such as trucks that may not be considered as essential as fuel or groceries.
"We're certainly committed to move whatever cargo we can," Vandenberg told CBC News Friday. "We want to move the majority of it. We're looking at scenarios, we're looking at alternatives as to how to do it."
Vandenberg said he was correctly quoted by Nunatsiaq News, and a spokesman for Schumann said his comments from Thursday continue to stand.
"The minister's absolutely right, there's no guarantees we're going to get everything in, we're going to make that effort," Vandenberg said.
"Naturally we're going to … prioritize, there's some stuff that is more likely to be damaged, there's some stuff people are going to want sooner rather than later and we're looking at everything."