Ice is preventing the final sealift barge from reaching Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk and alternative delivery options and compensation measures are being discussed.
The barge, under the Government of the Northwest Territory’s Marine Transportation Services division, was delayed a few times in September. It was expected to arrive in early October, but increasing ice has thwarted those plans, causing a scramble in the Kitikmeot.
The consequences are serious. Among the essentials are chlorine for municipal water supplies, oil for vehicle fleets and critical supplies for businesses that, in some cases, have spent much of their available funds and will be reeling without the delivery, said Cynthia Ene, executive director of the Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce.
“You can imagine the strain on the private sector, but (also) on our communities and infrastructure at large,” she said. “There’s a big concern… it’s really not good.”
The Hamlet of Kugluktuk is awaiting pieces of heavy equipment, vehicle oil and tires for its fleet, said Don LeBlanc, the community’s senior administrative officer.
“We’ll have enough (vehicle) oil to do us for part of the winter,” he said Tuesday. “We going to have to see today what the barge people will do for us.”
A communications staff member with the GNWT’s Department of Infrastructure stated that a public notice would be issued “soon.” By late afternoon, another staff member indicated that the government is continuing to work with “internal and external stakeholders for next step planning.”
The Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday evening in Cambridge Bay to examine options. The idea of airlifting supplies is already being discussed at an informal level, Ene acknowledged.
“We’re going to be talking about how to work cooperatively or if members or (Chamber) members feel like legal action is the next way forward for them,” she said.
The Chamber has reached out to a legal firm to review the terms of the sealift contracts, which are rather straightforward in nature, according to Ene, who added that legal action can hopefully be avoided.
She said people in the Kitikmeot are wondering why the barge was repeatedly delayed.
“It’s very unfortunate. The North is already vulnerable as it is,” she said. “It’s really disheartening… Direct and honest communication (with the GNWT) is so key, that different staff not be giving different bits of information, but that all streams of information coming out be cohesive and truthful.”
If delivery by air is an option, then there will be a prioritization process because the aircraft likely won’t be able to accommodate all the freight that would have arrived by sealift, she said. The question then arises about winter storage for the cargo that will remain in Hay River, she noted.
The isn’t the first time that barge cancellation has affected the Kitikmeot. A 2014 supply ship under the now defunct Northern Transportation Company Ltd. was also unable to fulfill its obligations due to October ice.
Ene said she’s grateful that the Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce was resurrected last year and can act on behalf of its members across the region in the face of this crisis.