Western Nunavut businesses stuck waiting for late barge
“They’re messing with peoples’ livelihoods”
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Small business owners in Cambridge Bay say they’re worried and angry about delays that have kept the last Northern Transportation Co. Ltd. barge, which was originally scheduled to arrive weeks ago and is now expected some time after Oct. 10, from reaching their community.
Peter Laube, owner of Kalvik Enterprises, a construction company in Cambridge Bay, said he’s “livid” about the delays.
That’s because the delay comes during a flurry of construction work leading up to the Canadian High Arctic Research Station’s opening in 2017.
“They’re messing with peoples’ livelihoods,” Laube said.
At best, the late arrival of the barge means that $20,000 of goods for Laube’s company and household, which he spent two weeks in Edmonton buying and crating, may be frozen and damaged by the time these arrive to Cambridge Bay.
Unpacking the items — which include everything from paint to mayonnaise and soda pop — will be a “nasty job,” Laube said Oct. 7 in Cambridge Bay.
“NTCL better shape up. I don’t want money. I want the stuff replaced,” Laube said.
Even when he gets other non-perishable materials on the barge, Laube said he will be left with an oversupply of materials. That’s because he already had to fly in stock to start urgent jobs.
The problem, according to Laube, is that NTCL gave priority to Ellis Don — the contractor in charge of building CHARS — and to materials needed for Cambridge Bay’s new tank farm.
“They don’t care about the little people,” Laube said.
The first barge held only CHARS construction materials, Laube said; the second one was devoted mainly to the tank farm materials; and, the third held more containers and crates for Ellis Don — which Laube said are still sitting by the dock — as well as some personal and hamlet orders.
Laube said he now wants to know what NTCL plans to do about the materials now stuck on the late barge.
To date, he said he’s been reluctant to transfer his business to another sealift company due to NTCL’s link to Kitikmeot Corp.-owned businesses through its owner, Norterra.
But he’s now ready to send his next sealift order for Cambridge Bay through Quebec, if necessary.
NTCL says it’s doing the best it can to get the last barge of the season into Cambridge Bay. But ensuring that the barge meets its projected — and already postponed — Oct. 10 arrival date won’t be easy due to heavy ice conditions.
There’s a lot of ice around, said Bill Smith, NTCL’s vice president for logistics and business development Oct. 7 — “much, much, much more ice” than he has seen in recent years.
“There’s very little we can do about that,” Smith said in a telephone interview from Edmonton.
NTCL is now contacting the Canadian Coast Guard to see if an icebreaker can help get the barge into Cambridge Bay.
“We’re nail-biting,” said Wilf Wilcox, owner of Jago Services Inc., an electrical, heating and plumbing contractor, who has watched the ice on the bay thicken daily.
“But maybe they have a better crystal ball than us.”
If the barge fails to arrive, it could mean his company will be doing work outside in the coldest and darkest time of the year.
“All the jobs are [already] late now,” Wilcox said.
In response to the concern around Cambridge Bay, NTCL’s Smith acknowledges that “it’s a difficult situation.”
Smith said NTCL is “very aware” of the importance of the sealift to Cambridge Bay — and he promised to discuss with each customer how to get the barge’s cargo into the community if the barge is unable to get through the ice.