North

Eyeing 2017 shipping season, N.W.T. gov't plans for life after NTCL

The Department of Public Works and Services says it hopes to choose a replacement bulk fuel supplier for Mackenzie River/Beaufort Sea communities by early November.

Deadline for companies to bid on bulk fuel shipping contract extended 3 times

A Northern Transportation Company Limited barge outside Norman Wells, N.W.T. The Department of Public Works and Services says it hopes to choose a replacement bulk fuel supplier for Mackenzie River/Beaufort Sea communities by early November. (NTCL)

The N.W.T. government has a message for people living along the Mackenzie River who are wondering who is going to ship up their bulk fuel next year: It's working on it.

The Department of Public Works and Services says it hopes to choose a replacement for beleaguered marine shipper Northern Transportation Company Limited (NTCL) by early November.

"We're ahead of the game," says John Vandenberg, the department's assistant deputy minister of energy planning.

The replacement company would supply and deliver bulk fuel products to Fort Good Hope, Inuvik, Lutselk'e, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk, Tulita and Ulukhaktok for the next seven sailing seasons, starting in 2017 and ending in 2023.

Offers were first due on July 20, but the department has since extended the deadline three times, finally to Nov. 4.

Vandenberg denied it's because companies aren't interested.

"It's absolutely not a lack of interest amongst industry," said Vandenberg.

"We have vigorous interest from the marketplace, and we believe that we'll have a viable solution for the year 2017 and beyond for the Northwest Territories."

New routes?

Updates the government has provided to potential bidders during the tendering process so far show the government fielding a number of questions about the contract. Among them: whether routes other than the Mackenzie River would be acceptable.

Vandenberg says the government is not precluding the use of other routes, such as one taking cargo out of Vancouver and up the Pacific Coast, citing NTCL's allowed use of such a route several years ago.

One rumoured potential bidder, Vancouver-based ITB Marine, says it's not interested in the contract, which was valued at $110 million during NTCL's soon-to-end tenure.

"We currently have our hands full looking after our West Coast customers and don't anticipate bidding on the GNWT contract," ITB vice president Jim Lochhead wrote via email.

NTCL recently admitted it does not anticipate another company will take over its business.

The company owes banks $130 million, to say nothing of dozens of other creditors, including pensioners facing a cut in their pension cheques if an Alberta court allows the company to stop making special payments under the pension plan.

A full day's hearing on that matter will take place in October, with Toronto-based Koskie-Minsky — the same law firm representing Nortel pensioners — arguing on behalf of NTCL pensioners.

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