The Merv Hardie ferry across the Mackenzie River could remain closed until the end of the week after low water levels forced a “sudden” suspension of the service on the afternoon of Nov. 17.
Department of Transportation spokesperson Earl Blacklock said water levels had made a fairly good recovery over the weekend, after reaching a low of 149.285 metres above sea level on Sunday evening. A minimum reading of 149.8 metres is required for the ferry to operate with restrictions. Normal operations will resume when the reading increases above 150 metres.
“It’s all a function of temperature. For some reason Fort Providence is a lot colder right now than Yellowknife is, which is apparently having an effect,” Blacklock said Monday, explaining water levels near Fort Providence made a “fairly good” recovery Monday morning before pausing. “We’re hopeful we’ll see a resumption of service by the end of the week.”
Hay River Airport manager Kelly O’Connor said the shutdown has led to increased traffic at the airport.
“I’d say there have been 30 or more freighters since the ferry went down,” O’Connor explained, saying he expects the increased traffic to continue until the ferry is back in service.
“That would be my guess. There’s no other option to get the stuff across right now.”
Buffalo Airways’ Mikey McBryan said the company sent two DC-3 passenger flights to Hay River on Friday evening to deal with the increased demand. The company’s fleet of DC-3s, DC-4s and C-46s have also been making frequent trips to Hay River to pick up freight since the ferry shut down.
“It’s insane,” McBryan said Monday afternoon. “It’s the busiest I have seen in a long while.”
Also on Monday, officials with the Government of the Northwest Territories issued a release asking residents in the communities of Fort Providence, Behchoko and Yellowknife not to stockpile fuel, as this would lead to an “artificial” shortage. The GNWT is working with fuel suppliers across the north to ensure there is “sufficient” supplies while the ferry is shutdown, the release stated.
While the drop in water levels is severe, Blacklock said it pales in comparison to what happened in 1988. That year water levels dropped so severely that the ferry was shut down for four weeks.
“This in comparison is not as severe, but we really can’t say for sure how long it will be,” he said.
If service resumes on Friday as anticipated, Blacklock cautioned motorists to wait until at least next week before using the service. Due to the “sudden” nature of the shutdown, priority will be given to vehicles bringing in essential supplies, including fuel and food, for the first few days.
“It’s best to avoid those first two days,” Blacklock said.
Updated information will be available on the department’s website, www.dot.gov.nt.ca.