Wally Schumann says the GNWT is nearing the “successful completion” of its first season operating Marine Transportation Services for communities on the Mackenzie River and the Arctic coast.

Wally Schumann: minister of Infrastructure says first season of Marine Transportation Services was a success.  NNSL file photo

Speaking in the territorial legislature on Oct. 3, Schumann, the minister of Infrastructure, provided an update on the tug and barge service operated by the GNWT this summer with the purchased assets of the defunct Northern Transportation Company Ltd.

“Since early July when the first tug and barge tow of the season departed Hay River, GNWT Marine Transportation Services has successfully delivered all of the critical petroleum products and deck cargo to all scheduled communities and clients and has met all of its commercial marine charter commitments,” he said.

Schumann, the Hay River South MLA and also the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, noted that Marine Transportation Services registered and reactivated six tugboats, transported more than 37 million litres of fuel and carried more than 10,000 tonnes of deck cargo to communities and industry clients.

The cargo included diesel fuel, jet fuel, gasoline, construction materials, prefabricated housing units, heavy equipment, vehicles, and consumer goods.

Schumann also said that, at the GNWT Hay River Shipyard, maintenance work was completed on Canadian Coast Guard vessels that support navigation and shipping on NWT waters, and charter work was also accomplished for large industrial clients.

“In this way, Marine Transportation Services supports small and large businesses, industrial operations, and stimulates economic development in the Northwest Territories,” he said.

For the 2017 season, the Department of Infrastructure engaged a marine crewing contractor to recruit and employ personnel to operate GNWT Marine Transportation Services.

“At the peak of the season, more than 140 people were employed, and 60 of those employees were Northwest Territories residents,” said Schumann. “In addition to the employment generated, Marine Transportation Services has purchased more than $2.6 million in goods and services from Northwest Territories businesses so far this year.”

However, the minister noted it is a challenging business.

“To achieve these successes during its first operating season, Marine Transportation Services overcame many obstacles, including the challenge of moving the vessels necessary for community resupply from Inuvik to Hay River at the beginning of the season; and addressing several years of deferred maintenance of the tugs, barges, shipyard, and terminals,” he said.

In addition, he pointed out that high water levels in the Mackenzie River delayed the Canadian Coast Guard’s buoy and navigation aid setup, and delays in supplier shipments of cargo fuel resulted in temporary delivery delays to two communities.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories will use the lessons that we have learned this season to implement strategies to enhance our operations in future years,” said Schumann. “Drawing upon this experience, we are developing a long-term business and operating model for Marine Transportation Services; one that will best use business revenues to stabilize costs of essential marine services and enable the success of future operations.”

The minister said that improved marine operations depend upon investment in infrastructure, such as landings and wharves, channel maintenance through dredging, and better charting and navigational aids.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories is pursuing opportunities for funding that may be available through initiatives such as the federal Oceans Protection Plan to improve the state of marine infrastructure in the territory,” he noted. “The Department of Infrastructure has developed a list of priority marine infrastructure that requires improvement and has identified opportunities for investments to increase the safety and efficiency of marine operations. These include improvements to port and shipyard assets, intermodal facility improvements, harbour dredging, dock repairs, and maintenance at ferry landings and at all marine-served communities.”

Sahtu MLA Daniel Mark McNeely asked the minister if Marine Transportation Services made any money this year.

“At the appropriate time, we will be bringing forward the business plan for the past sailing season, the lessons learned,” replied Schumann. “Once the sailing season is totally concluded and wrapped up, we will be able to bring that information forward.”

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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