Thursday May 25, 2017

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Too much, too late

Ottawa is addressing a lack of marine infrastructure in Nunavut. But some say the funding would be better spent elsewhere

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Canada’s Arctic has very little marine infrastructure. Ottawa, though, recently announced plans to begin to rectify this deficit by building a naval base near the community of Arctic Bay and a harbour in Iqaluit.

On July 17 the federal government staged a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of the future Nanisivik naval base. The project will convert a wharf formerly used by a decommissioned lead-zinc mine for use by federal vessels. Work was set to begin in 2007 but was delayed after engineers determined the pier was unstable.

Although the pier is no longer sinking, a Defence Ministry assessment found that there has been some settling of the caissons that have supported it since its construction nearly 40 years ago. It is expected that the pier will be operational by 2018 and last anywhere from 15 to 40 years.

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In addition to the pier, the facility will house a tank-farm with a capacity of 7.5 million litres of fuel. The project is estimated to cost C$130 million ($100 million) and is expected to create as many as 60 jobs during construction.

The original plan included year-round operation and a landing strip, but that has since been dropped in an effort to cut costs.

The second initiative, announced yesterday, seeks to improve maritime access to Iqaluit through the construction of a port and sealift facility that would make it possible for freighters to use the city’s port.

In addition, the plans call for C$84 million to be spent by federal and territorial authorities to upgrade an existing small-craft anchorage.

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Because there are no roads into the territory, residents depend on cargo ships to deliver a year’s worth of goods during the short ice-free season. Goods that cannot be sailed in during the so-called sealift, must be shipped by air, which adds a considerable amount to their cost.

Sealift typically takes place between July and the end of September, though the timing varies each year. This year, for example, Frobisher Bay, where Iqaluit is located, is still clogged with ice.

Icebreakers can help by escorting cargo ships, but they can do little to assist the barges that transport the goods back to shore because they cannot operate in ice.

Allowing freighters to sail into harbour would avoid all that, but there is a cheaper option, reckons Suzanne Paquin, the managing director of Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping, which holds the sealift contract for Iqaluit.

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Her idea is to refurbish a causeway in Frobisher Bay. Doing so, she explains, would still require the use of barges, but instead of waiting for tides to rise, as they must currently do, the barges would sail to the causeway, where they would transfer their goods to lorries.

Ms Paquin, though not opposed to a full-blown port, says that because rebuilding the causeway would be cheaper, it would free up money that could be spent on Nunavut’s other problems, such as housing and healthcare.

Regardless of which approach officials take, Ms Paquin says it should be part of an overall transport strategy for the territory.

“We want to see a balanced approach. Money is spent on airports but zero dollars have been spent on marine infrastructure.”

That drought appears due to end, though for the people of Iqaluit it may be too much, too late.