October 3, 2018 2:10 pm

Arctic communities won’t get crucial supplies after barge cancelled due to excess sea ice

Three Arctic communities fear they've been cut off from crucial winter supplies after a government-owned company cancelled the annual supply barge that replenishes them. A family walks down the streets in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Marine Transportation Services Ltd., owned by the Northwest Territories, says there's too much sea ice to run the scheduled barge to the central Arctic communities of Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
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Three Arctic communities fear they’ve been cut off from crucial winter supplies and other necessities after a government-owned company cancelled an annual barge run.

Marine Transportation Services Ltd., owned by the Northwest Territories, says there’s too much sea ice to move the scheduled barge to the central Arctic communities of Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay.

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That’s left millions of dollars worth of supplies including household groceries, construction materials and municipal equipment stranded on the docks in Tuktoyaktuk with no way to get them to the more than 3,000 people who need them.

“All our total next year’s worth of supplies are on that barge – lifts and lifts of cabinet materials, rolls and rolls of Arborite and flooring,” said Peter Laube of Kalvik Enterprises in Cambridge Bay.

“We’ve got these huge jobs all over.”

The sea lift resupply is an annual rite all over the Arctic. Communities without land links order a year’s worth of everything – from diapers to canned pop to office supplies to dog food – from one of several barge companies that operate in the North.

READ MORE: Calgary researchers discover 116-year-old whaling wreckage in Canada’s Arctic

For decades, the central Arctic was served by Northern Transportation Company Ltd., which sent barges from the end of the road in Hay River, N.W.T., up the Mackenzie River and eastward along the coast. That ended in 2016, when the company went bankrupt and the service was taken over by the territorial government.

Last year, Marine Transportation Services carried more than 37 million litres of fuel and more than 10,000 tonnes of cargo to communities and industry. A spokeswoman said the company is trying to find an alternative way to make this year’s deliveries.

Government officials from the territory did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Holland, senior administrative officer for the hamlet of Paulatuk, said the company didn’t even send official notice that the sea lift had been cancelled.

“We’ve heard indirectly it was supposed to be Sept. 28. Then we heard maybe October, but we’ve heard nothing directly. I had $2,000 worth of groceries on that barge.”

READ MORE: Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers travel to assist passenger ship gone aground in Nunavut

Laube said he was counting on those supplies -for which he’s already paid – to build new staff housing. He’s since had to rent accommodation for his workers at $3,200 a month.

As well, his company won’t be able to finish homes it’s already sold and will have to rent something for those people at $5,000 a month.

If, in addition, he has to fly in supplies to meet commitments, he figures the cancelled barge will cost his company up to $400,000.

Holland said his community has badly needed heavy equipment on the barge. Hunters are waiting for ATVs they need to get on the land. Hotels have supplies they need for visitors. People are making loan payments on vehicles they can’t drive.

“I don’t know why they couldn’t have arranged an icebreaker,” Holland said.

“If there’s a problem they should at least be up front. It’s a stupid way for a government to act.”

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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