Residents worried port scheme threatens fragile beauty that charms tourists and residents

Bathurst's dilemma: pristine nature or messy progress?


BATHURST INLET – As Sam Kapolak navigates the slow-moving pontoon barge that ferries visitors from the Bathurst Inlet Lodge around the inlet, he has trouble imagining how this tranquil scene would look if a huge fuel tanker or barge passed by.

But between mid-July and mid-October, that's exactly what Kapolak would see each year if the Bathurst road and port project is built as planned by 2012.

The port on Bathurst Inlet calls for traffic from 50,000-tonne ice-class tankers as well as fuel resupply barges that would move between the port and communities in the Kitikmeot region.

It's part of the Bathurst Inlet Road and Port Project, or BIPAR, promoted by the Kitikmeot Corp. and Nuna Logistics.

Kapolak, 49, the president of the local Burnside Hunters and Trappers Association, says he has mixed feelings about the road and port project.

The project, he says, would be good for the younger generation because it would offer more jobs close by.

But Kapolak, like many in Bathurst Inlet, worries about the port's impact on the environment.

The port site lies on the same shipping lane and water access as Bathurst Inlet.

This means tankers will have to make a sharp – and possibly difficult – turn not far from the community to navigate further down the inlet.

Located only 35 kilometres to the south of the Bathurst Inlet community, the $270-million port facility would also include the construction of a dock, 18 large fuel storage tanks, a 211-km road to Conwoyto Lake, a 1,200-metre airstrip and two camps for about 200 workers.

Colin Fraser, 31, the grandson of Glenn Warner, the ex-Mountie who started the Bathurst Inlet Lodge in 1969, spends his summers at the lodge as a guide.

Fraser says he's concerned about what would happen after a spill or accident along the inlet.

To date, the inlet has remained undisturbed. Rare birds, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, live in the cliffs. Hundreds of flowers coat the hillsides and the surrounding rivers are rich in char.

The shoreline around the inlet contains numerous archeological sites reflecting 5,000 years of Inuit occupation. Nearly all are unprotected, unmapped and open to the elements. So far, their vulnerability hasn't been a problem.

"I worry about workers, even those from the Kitikmeot, who would see that the inlet remains open for months during the summer and decide to bring their boats in and build camps along the inlet," Fraser said.

Many at the Bathurst Inlet Lodge, which is jointly owned by the Warner family and the people of Bathurst Inlet (Kingaun) through the Inuit development corporation Kingaunmiut Ltd., say their livelihood would be cut off if tourists saw tankers and barges instead of untouched hills.

"I wouldn't come back if the port goes ahead," said a recent visitor to the lodge.

Members of the community, Burnside Hunters and Trappers, Kingaunmiut Ltd., Bathurst Developments and the lodge formed the Bathurst Road and Port Committee in 2002 to represent their interests and concerns.

This month, the committee received $104,000 from the federal government to prepare its review of the project proponent's nine-volume environmental impact statement.

Some in Bathurst Inlet say the environmental impact study is incomplete, saying it didn't look closely enough at the potential damages and benefits and didn't adequately involve Bathurst Inlet residents.

The project is so "huge and so close," it could change Bathurst Inlet forever, even if it does bring new opportunities, fears Connie Kapolak, 34, who chairs the community's port and road committee.

Kapolak says her community has been fighting to be involved in the port project.

"If you're in a small place, your voice is not heard," Kapolak said.

People in Bathurst Inlet would like to play a role in educating developers about Bathurst Inlet and identifying the many sites of historical and cultural interest around the area.

At the very least, the Bathurst Inlet committee wants community members to be better informed and involved with every step of the project, which is expected to go into a technical review with the Nunavut Impact Review Board sometime this year.

But the recent pull-out of a main backer of the BIPAR has led many in Bathurst Inlet to believe the project will never be built, even if it moves ahead on paper and finishes the permitting process.

Zinifex Ltd., a key anchor tenant for the BIPAR, pulled out of the scheme this past spring.

Zinifex decided it's more advantageous for the company to build its own road to a port at Grays Bay, many miles west of Bathurst Inlet and just north of Zinifex's High Lake property, which it would use to resupply its huge Izok Lake zinc and copper mine, which is to open in 2014.

Zinifex's decision to go on its own is a blow to the Sabina Silver Corp.'s Hackett River project, 75 km southwest of the community of Bathurst Inlet, which wanted to use the road and port to support a future zinc, copper and lead mine.

This season, the camp at Hackett River is shutting down early and shelving plans for more environmental studies and other construction, according to members of the Hackett River camp who recently visited the Bathurst Inlet Lodge.

The on-and-off nature of the BIPAR project has left some in Bathurst Inlet frustrated, harassed by repeated questioning and reluctant to talk any more about plans that may change their land forever.

Jessie Kapolak, who at 82 is the oldest resident of Bathurst Inlet, doesn't want to answer any more questions.

But her silence shouldn't be taken as agreement, others in the community say.

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