There appears to be no shortage of reasons Sachs Harbour isn’t getting a barge delivery this year.
First, we have the flooding in Hay River, where the barges spend their winters; the clean-up of which is estimated to cost $174 million and counting.
It’s not hard to envision how having your main base flooded would impede moving vessels. Flood waters are typically filled with debris that could seriously damage the hull and engines of a ship. A moving barge could potentially damage recoverable property floating around too.
Now, we’ve learned that on top of the high waters and wind conditions that prevented the barges from moving out of Hay River on time, someone in or before Tulita — for reasons known only to them — cut a fuel delivery hose. Obviously the chance of a fuel spill in the Mackenzie Delta is far too big of a risk to maintain a schedule — if the government had made a different decision and created a clearly preventable environmental disaster then this newspaper would have hung the GNWT out to dry, and rightly so.
So it’s unfair to chastise the GNWT and Marine Transportation Services for putting safety first — that’s the right move every time.
However, if you’re living in Sachs Harbour and can’t make bannock because flour is more than $30 a bag and you’re waiting for your winter fuel to be flown in, it must be extremely difficult. Some people living in the far North are suffering because of conditions completely out of their control. As we heard from a resident in Paulatuk this week, this isn’t the first year the barge has been late getting to the remote coastal hamlets of the Amundsen Gulf. So there certainly are some operational possibilities the GNWT should consider to prevent a repeat of this.
Although this winter the supply barges will be spending the months where their skippers pulled the plug, the typical procedure is to return all the barges to Hay River for maintenance and repairs. Certainly from a balance book perspective, having all your repairs done under one roof makes sense. But obviously there is merit in paying for more than the bare minimum.
Given Inuvik’s size, closer proximity and fairly well established docking areas, perhaps it would make sense to routinely harbour a supply barge here for the winter? Although it would cost significantly more to ship items here than from Hay River, it would allow for an earlier supply season for Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok and Paulatuk. The endeavour would create jobs and capacity in the region for other heavy duty mechanical work. An Inuvik-based barge could also allow for better service for our up-river friends in Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Fort McPherson, or even farther upriver to Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells and Tulita. It could also provide a steady alternative to continually pounding the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway with heavy truck traffic that racks up maintenance time and money.
Something I was not aware of about Inuvik when I first got off the plane that I am very aware of now is that Inuvik is a naval town. Anyone who can get on a boat in the summer does so as often as possible.
People who live here know these waters like their own backyards. The GNWT should be taking advantage of that knowledge.