At least one person in the Beaufort Delta predicted last week’s cancellation of the Sachs Harbour barge.
Kenneth Ruben said he had a feeling the barge wouldn’t make it to its final destination, after it pulled into Paulatuk three weeks late.
“Yet again our government barge service has seriously failed our three seaside communities,” he said. “The service has gotten dramatically worse every year they’ve been in operation and our politicians don’t seem to care.
“It’s frustrating. This has been a point of contention for our three communities since the first year Marine Transport Services has been in operation.”
Ruben said late barges have been the norm since the service changed hands back in in 2017.
With a litre of milk costing $25 and a 10 kilogram bag of flour approaching $30, the cost of goods in the communities along the Amundsen Gulf is already sky-high. The only thing keeping people from going hungry, Ruben said, is the abundance of traditional knowledge and hunting skills preserved by locals.
But even that’s in jeopardy due to annual delays, noted Ruben, as hunters need fuel to run their snowmobiles and ammunition to bring down game — two essential staples that come in by barge.
“The money they spend to subsidize our groceries here is basically money spent for nothing,” he said. “They wait so long to service our three seaside communities that we’re relying on goods that are sometimes three or four times more costly at the store because they’re flying everything in.”
A spokesperson for the GNWT said barge delays can be blamed on a number of things, and estimated delivery dates are updated as the shipping season progresses.
Initially, the plan was to have the barge in Ulukhaktok on Aug. 31, in Sachs Harbour on Sept. 5, and in Paulatuk on Sept. 9. However, bad weather delayed offloading a fuel delivery from the Fuel Services Division, which kept the barges from getting out of Tuktoyaktuk on time. With a new cast-off date of Sept. 6, the revised plan would mean reaching Ulukhaktok on Sept. 8, Sachs Harbour on Sept. 14 and Paulatuk on Sept. 18.
But the barge didn’t end up making it to Ulukhaktok until Sept. 25. By the time it finally reached Paulatuk on Oct. 9 the ocean had become too dangerous for sailing.
“MTS operations rely on partner organizations for fuel delivery, buoy placement and the loading of the barges to get the necessary deck cargo and fuel properly on board for safe shipment,” said senior communications officer Laura Busch. “The Fuel Services Division shipped roughly half of its summer resupply fuel by tanker around the North Slope of Alaska. This tanker arrived in Tuktoyaktuk on Aug. 17.
“A post-season evaluation will be completed in the coming months and will examine ways to advance the delivery schedule.”
Busch later told the Canadian Press a potentially vandalized fuel line also delayed the barge. The incident is being investigated by RCMP but no suspects have been named.
With the barge to Sachs Harbour cancelled, the vessel will spend the winter in Paulatuk. Busch said only one tug boat out of five owned by MTS actually made it back to the base harbour in Hay River. The remaining vessels, will stay where they are.
She added the Henry C is in Cambridge Bay along with three empty barges, and the Edgar K will spend the winter in Paulatuk with two barges. The Nunakput will winter at the terminal in Tuktoyuktuk and the Kelly O will spend the coldest months in the Terminal in Inuvik.
The GNWT was reaching out to people in the community to determine what items are most urgently needed, with plans to fly them in. A fuel inventory has been completed and currently there are 66,700 litres of jet fuel, 265,800 L of diesel and 88,350 L of gasoline in the area. MTS had intended to ship 118,000 L of jet fuel, 640,000 L of diesel and 100,000 L of gasoline, but was now assessing just how much had to be airlifted in. The remaining fuel will stay with the barge in Paulatuk and be delivered next year.
“No costs associated with these alternate arrangements will be passed on to residents,” said Busch. “While seasonal fuel adjustments will still occur in November/December, fuel will be priced as if it had arrived by barge. None of the additional costs of airlifting fuel will be passed on to customers.
“Some goods will need to be stored in Paulatuk over the winter. Again, the cost will not be passed to the customer.
“We know this is frustrating for the residents of the community and we are grateful for everyone’s patience as we work through the details necessary to prepare for an airlift.”
-with files from Emily Blake