Nunavut government fixes Qikiqtarjuaq airstrip mess

“There was a whole lot of teaching going on”

By SAMANTHA DAWSON

Aircraft can land safely at Qikiqtarjuaq, where the airport runway is finally operating after it was damaged by spring floods.

That’s after five days of repairs and clean up, the acting director of Nunavut Airports, Todd McKay, said June 26.

However, it was more than just the runway that was affected. There were a number of washouts, and road access to the airport, access to gravel at the same end of the community and access to the main tank farm were hit, too, he said.

The runway, about 4,000 feet long, was covered with water a third of the way up. And, with the melt shortening the runway distance, it was up to airlines to decide whether they wanted to land.

“They come up with that call,” McKay said.

But it wasn’t a pretty picture: chunks of ice and snow were also caught in two culverts, affecting how much water made it on to and then remained on the gravel runway.

“It overwhelmed the culverts and the melt water couldn’t get past the runway,” McKay said. “It could have been avoided, had those culverts been maintained.”

What exactly caused the damage and whether it was caused by silt or ice that should have been cleared away is unclear, he said, but “the strip itself had little trenches on the dirt runway.”

Clearing the culverts in the future is going to be a priority.

“It’s going to take some extra enthusiasm to make sure those culverts are open,” McKay said.

The repairs involved replacing gravel, compacting it, and putting in proper drainage. This process took five days to complete, with a few charters from Rankin Inlet flying in equipment, such as temporary lights and workers with the know-how who could work with people from the hamlet to fix the mess.

“There was a whole lot of teaching going on,” said McKay, adding that this will help if the same thing happens next year with the melt water.

“We need to be sure we have the equipment there and someone who knows how to use it.”

The plan now is to do whatever is necessary to ensure the skills are there to deal with this kind of situation, and that could include more training over the summer.

This was the first significant damage that anyone can remember in the community, which “just caught everybody off guard.” A minor problem with runoff in 2007 was quickly fixed.

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