Infrastructure Politics

Port promises: Local marine infrastructure needed in Nunavut

The following concludes the two-part series by scientific contributor Olivia Mussells on marine transportation and port infrastructure in the Canadian Arctic.

The Northwest Passage is unlikely to become the next Panama Canal anytime soon, with the costs of unpredictable and hazardous ice conditions making transit currently economically non-viable.

That said, there has still been a significant increase in ships travelling in the Arctic, as observed in a study of the area by Larissa Pizzolato and her colleagues published in the journal, Climatic Change.

That increase hasn’t only been in the number of cargo ships.

Using records from the Canadian Coast Guard dating back to 1990, the number of vessels in the Canadian Arctic was found to have increased by 75 per cent in the past decade.

Most of these increases weren’t due to booming cargo shipments or ships associated with resource extraction, as might be expected. A small proportion of the increase is attributed to community re-supply and fishing ships, and the rest is associated with tourism, research, and government support vessels. Undoubtedly, cargo shipping may increase in the future as warming trends continue, but the current focus on safer shipping in the Arctic should adequately meet the needs of the types of vessels actually observed to have a growing presence in the North.

There are currently no deep-water ports in Nunavut, and only one small craft harbour, found in Pangnirtung. This situation has created delays in the sealifts and hazards for small craft users as well as tourists. For example, community re-supply ships, unable to dock once they reach a community, must rely on barges to bring cargo to shore. As seen this past winter in Iqaluit, ice can become an issue for these barges, preventing them from reaching the beach where they are unloaded. Local boaters don’t have protected areas to keep their boats, which are important for their livelihoods. Tourism vessels, too, must ferry visitors from larger ships to the shore. These situations are dangerous for boaters, and highly inefficient.

Before the election, then-MP Leona Aglukkaq committed federal support for two different marine infrastructure projects in Nunavut. In Pond Inlet, that included up to $30 million towards a marine and small craft harbour, estimated to cost a total of $40 million. This harbour would offer protection for the small boats used by hunters and boaters, but also could accommodate larger ships arriving as part of the sealift. For Iqaluit, the government committed up to $64 million towards a deep-water port, which would be the first of its kind in the territory. The port is expected to cost $85 million, with a $20-million contribution from the Nunavut territory. It would include facilities for both smaller craft as well as larger vessels, increasing the safety for boaters as well as improving the efficiency of offloading cargo.

Since the Liberals were elected on October 19, the question remains as to whether or not the new government will honour those pledges. In August, Hunter Tootoo promised in a statement that “if the funding was actually committed [by the Conservatives], it will stay committed” if he were elected. He added that it would be necessary to verify if the Conservatives had already set money aside in the budget for the projects. Since being elected, there has been no word on the port projects or the government contributions, nor has a binding agreement been signed. That said, there is still hope that the commitments will be honoured, as both these projects are important investments in Nunavut’s marine infrastructure.◉

Photo credit: istockphoto/Eretmochelis

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