The MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes had strong words for the Minister of Infrastructure regarding delays to the expansion of the runway at Inuvik Mike Zubko Airport.

During a sitting of the Legislative Assembly on March 28, MLA Lesa Semmler said it had come to her attention that the project had been put on hold by the GNWT.

“Shockingly, it has come to my attention that work on this incredibly important project has recently been stopped or delayed by our government, and has been stopped at a time when Arctic sovereignty is a top national priority in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine,” she said.

“It is my understanding that they have stopped work on the project because the detailed engineering budget provided by the consortium is proximately $40 million higher than the government initially costed, which was without transparency regarding its details or core assumptions, and before Covid-19 caused disruptions to the global supply chain and increases to the cost of steel and other materials.”

“It is clear we cannot have any confidence in the safety and security of our region, as our government won’t do anything to ensure the safety and security of our country.”

She also highlighted the importance of the project to the local economy: The tender was awarded to a company jointly owned by the Inuvialuit Development Corporation, the Gwich’in Development Corporation, and EGT Northwind.

The expansion was expected to be completed by 2025; It was not immediately clear how the delay would affect that timeline.

Minister of Infrastructure Diane Archie confirmed that the estimate for the project came in “significantly over budget,” compared to estimates by both the GNWT and a third party.

Semmler asked what Archie’s department was doing to get the project moving again. Archie confirmed that the project had been delayed, saying that officials with the Department of Infrastructure, the contractor, and officials with the federal Department of Defence, were meeting that afternoon to discuss a resolution to the situation.

“I understand where the member’s coming from, Inuvik is my community as well, and it’s something that we pushed at the premier’s level, to have that discussion on national defence so we don’t lose the time,” she said. “So I’m hoping for a favourable outcome today as a result of those meetings.”

The expansion of the runway is just one of several projects to modernize Inuvik’s airport, including the replacement of the air terminal building and upgrades to the airfield. The runway will be expanded from 6,000 to 9,000 feet to better accommodate military aircraft, and thus to better serve the Department of Defence’s Forward Operating Location. This facility was created during the Cold War in the 1980s to bolster Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

Although the project was first proposed years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Semmler said the events in Eastern Europe, and their potential consequences for Arctic sovereignty, gave the project a new urgency.

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