Solution to cancelled barges 'comes a bit late,' says N.W.T. MLA

Officials with the Northwest Territories infrastructure department will fly-in some supplies including fuel to communities on the Arctic coast after barge service cancelled due to severe ice.

First priority is flying in enough fuel to Paulatuk, says infrastructure department

Barge on water.
An NTCL barge is shown in this file photo. The N.W.T. government bought the barges from the company in 2016. This year's service to three communities and a mine on the Arctic coast has been cancelled due to extreme ice. (NTCL)

The Northwest Territories government is giving residents an idea of what will happen to the seven barges of goods that won't be making it to their communities this year.

Barge service to Paulatuk, N.W.T., and the western Nunavut communities of Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, as well as a Nunavut gold mine, has been cancelled due to extreme ice conditions.

Now, territorial government officials are deciding which items to send to the communities by plane, and what will stay behind until the next barge can bring them in.

"Our priority right now is airlifted diesel fuel into Paulatuk," said John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Infrastructure. "There's not enough fuel there to last the winter." 

To do that, the territory will fly about 600,000 litres of diesel to Paulatuk, requiring between 50 and 60 flights to do it, Vandenberg explained.

The territorial government will pay to ship up the fuel, he said.

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But some items won't be able to be flown up, such as pickup trucks and heavy equipment.

Vandenberg said staff with the infrastructure department will contact every client with items on the barge and determine how important it is for them to receive their goods, flying them up based on priority.

There is still some uncertainty around what will happen to the remaining goods, Vandenberg said, adding that the territorial government is looking at storage options.

He said the territory's barge service is "not an amateur operation" and the Amundsen Gulf is so inundated with ice that "it's absolutely unequivocal and clear [that] … it is just impossible" to get through.

The territory requested assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard, which was unable to get even its largest icebreaker through the ice, Vandenberg said.

"The ice can be like the pinchers of a giant pair of pliers," he said. "You don't survive that."

A spokesperson for the Coast Guard confirmed that it couldn't send an icebreaker to help because of the extreme ice conditions.

Department 'acting a little bit slow,' says MLA

Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak met with infrastructure minister Wally Schumann and other leaders in Inuvik, N.W.T., to discuss how the cancelled barges are affecting people.

"I just spoke to my mother yesterday and she was like, 'can you bring flour?' There's a lack of services," Nakimayak said. "I think that this is something that comes a bit late.

"The cost of living is already high in Paulatuk and the coastal communities, and there's a possibility that the cost may rise even more due to this error."

Grocery store shelves in Paulatuk, N.W.T., were supposed to be resupplied by barge, but they are now empty as the barge was cancelled this year. (Submitted by Herb Nakimayak)

The grocery store shelves are emptying, and NorthMart is working to fly in more food, he said.

"It seems like the Department of Infrastructure is acting a little bit slow on all of this," Nakimayak said.

"They seem to brush it off, but it's something that's very important to the community and important to the well-being of people in Paulatuk.

"There should be lessons learned and possibly some negative impacts for the department to brush it off this way."

Nakimayak said next year, he would like to see an earlier shipping season — which he said could happen if the staging area is moved to Tuktoyaktuk, which is now accessible via the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

Schumann told CBC News on Wednesday that he spoke with leadership in the region while in Inuvik for an economic symposium, and is discussing logistics of how to get essential items to the communities.

He said that he had not yet been briefed on some specific details of the barge cancellations, but that this was an "abnormal year" for sea ice, and that he has told Nakimayak and the mayor of Paulatuk that he is committed to reviewing what happened.


  • This story previously stated that Wally Schumann had not been briefed on the barge cancellations. It has been clarified to say that he has not been briefed on specific details of the cancellations, and expands on his comments.
    Oct 04, 2018 4:15 PM CT