GNWT updates barging plans

NNSL file photo
The territorial government has a plan to get barges down the Mackenzie this summer.

As the 2017 sailing season approaches, the GNWT has provided an update of plans to operate its Marine Transportation Services – assets purchased late last year from the defunct Northern Transportation Company Ltd.

The update on the barging plans was delivered in the legislative assembly on June 1 by Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann, who is also the Hay River South MLA.

“Marine Transportation Services serves a critical role in the North,” said Schumann. “It reaches from Canada’s northernmost port in Hay River all the way up to some of the highest communities in Canada. There are very few businesses like it in the world. We are determining how this business can be sustained and improved to meet the needs of our residents and other customers, and be positioned to seize the opportunities that the future may present.”

Schumann noted the government has engaged business consulting firm Ernst and Young to assist in developing a business model.

The Department of Finance will analyze operations during the season to determine optimal business structures and operating models for the long-term, and produce a report with recommendations by the fall.

In December, the GNWT took steps to ensure the North did not lose the transportation link that delivers petroleum products and cargo, including consumer goods and construction materials, to communities and customers on Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and the Arctic coast when it purchased assets of Northern Transportation Company Limited.

The assets included the Hay River Shipyard; properties in Hay River, Norman Wells, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk; and a fleet of specialized tugboats and single-hulled barges for transporting deck cargo to all NWT communities that rely on marine resupply.

“Our purchase of the shipyard, terminals and marine fleet is a strategic investment in transportation infrastructure that provides jobs, helps stimulate our economy, and will maintain the Mackenzie River as a primary route to safely and efficiently move essential goods to our communities,” Schumann stated.

The minister noted the GNWT also purchased two double-hulled barges that were not included in the original assets to satisfy Transport Canada regulations for transporting fuel in oceans.

“We will continue to update and improve our fleet to provide these essential services to our communities,” he said. “We are working with our federal counterparts to determine how we might access federal funding that is being made available for Northern marine initiatives.”

Schumann noted a sailing plan has been developed.

“Our cargo office in Hay River is up and running, our website has been launched, and a toll-free customer service number has been established,” he said, noting the service will visit all NWT marine-accessible communities this season, along with Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut.

“Customer cargo is rolling in to our Hay River yard,” the minister added. “Fuel orders are currently being placed with our fuel supplier. We have made arrangements with the NWT Housing Corporation to move construction materials to northern communities, we will move goods for the Northern Stores and for Arctic Co-operatives, and we are concluding contracts for the movement of fuel and cargo for various other large customers.”

A contractor’s maintenance crews are in Inuvik making the vessels ready to sail.

Three vessels have been dedicated to the core community business, and the Kitikmeot and Prudhoe Bay service.

“These will arrive in Hay River during the third week of June, where they will be dry-docked and inspected,” said Schumann. “The first cargo-loaded vessels will set sail from Hay River on or about the first of July.

Marine Transportation Services have also been awarded a contract for maintenance work for the Canadian Coast Guard on the two buoy tender vessels on the Mackenzie River.

As for environmental concerns about the purchased property, Schumann noted phase one environmental site assessments have been completed for all sites with leases on Commissioner’s and territorial lands.

“We will continue to work with Environment and Natural Resources this summer to conduct phase two environmental site assessments on the lands we have acquired,” he said. “This program will continue over the next three summers to determine what remediation activities may be required.”

In the legislative assembly on May 26, Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson asked Schumann about the expected employment levels for the Marine Transportation Services.

“Our projections for the workforce coming this year are roughly around 145 employees,” Schumann replied.

As of May 26, the workforce was about halfway to full operation.

–Paul Bickford