High costs killed Iqaluit-Labrador vehicle ferry dream, Nunavut minister says

“It would cost millions and millions of dollars”

Floating on a dream: Here’s Peter Woodward of the Woodward Group of Companies at the Northern Lights Trade Show in 2016, promoting an Iqaluit-Labrador vehicle ferry service. But there’s one big problem: Iqaluit’s deepsea port will not be able to accommodate the roll-on-roll-off infrastructure needed to make such a service work. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

Due to high construction costs, Iqaluit’s new deepsea port, now under construction, can’t accommodate a once-dreamed-of Iqaluit-Labrador vehicle ferry service, Lorne Kusugak, the minister of Community and Government Services said this week.

Kusugak made the remark in response to a question Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone asked on Tuesday, May 28.

In his question, Lightstone said he’s surprised to have learned recently that the new port won’t include the “roll-on-roll-off” infrastructure that would let vehicles drive on and off ships anchored at the Iqaluit port.

He said he got that information after he asked a question at a recent information session in Iqaluit.

“To my surprise, the answer was that although Economic Development and Transportation did include roll-on-roll-off specs to the project scope, it was not included in the final designs,” Lightstone said.

Kusugak said, however, that in the end, GN officials determined those specs would cost too much.

“It would have been nice to have roll-on-roll-off technology on the site, but looking at the cost and benefits, it did not match, so we didn’t include it,” said Kusugak, whose department is responsible for contracting and procurement.

Back in February 2016, Nunatsiaq News reported on a big pitch that Peter Woodward, the vice-president of operations for the Woodward Group of Companies, had made at the Northern Lights trade show in Ottawa that year.

Woodward told delegates in a presentation that, because of the GN decision to build a deepsea port, an Iqaluit-Labrador vehicle ferry service would soon follow.

Woodward’s company, which holds a contract to deliver fuel to Nunavut every year, has made no secret of its desire to launch a dry cargo and ferry service between Iqaluit and the Port of Goose Bay.

And Woodward bragged that once his company’s proposed vehicle ferry service got up and running, likely by 2020 or 2021, a typical Iqaluit ferry passenger would be able to drive a truck onto the ferry, sail to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, load up with low-cost groceries, then take the ferry back to Iqaluit.

But that dream vanished after Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation reviewed the numbers.

“It’s very expensive to build that site and just for the roll-on-roll-off alone, it would cost millions and millions of dollars. We have to look at the whole project, the cost, the pros and cons, the benefits, and how we can better use the money,” Kusugak said.

That means that when the GN awarded the construction contract for the project to Tower Arctic in May of 2018, provision for roll-on-roll-off specifications would have been deleted from the plan.

In a package deal worth about $89 million, Tower’s contracts cover construction of a small-craft harbour at Pond Inlet, and a deepsea port and small-craft harbour in Iqaluit.

The GN expects all work on the Iqaluit projects to be completed by 2021.

Right now, sealift vessels are able to offload cargo at Iqaluit for only a few hours each day, during high tide.

But the new Iqaluit port will provide 24-hour-a-day access for ships to offload cargo. A new four-hectare laydown area will be almost double the size of the current laydown area on the beach, and incoming cargo will be put directly onto the wharf using cranes.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Minister Kusugak’s response is nonsensical. The technology for roll-on-roll-off service would hardly be less infrastructure intensive than what is being built now as all that would be required would the inclusion of appropriate hydraulic ramps and the same lay down area as is currently being constructed, so I am unsure where the “millions in additional costs” would come into play.

    • Posted by Observer on

      It would have required an expansion of the docking area, because it would need to have had the capacity to dock both a resupply ship and the ferry at the same time. Otherwise, what happens when a ferry arrives while a sealift is unloading?

      • Posted by Hii on

        Wait your turn or better yet call ahead before sailing for docking.
        This is Iqaluit, not a waterway for cities.

  2. Posted by Asinine on

    The whole concept was asinine to begin with. Trucking goods 2000 KM to put them on a boat is neither logical nor likely to realize a cost-savings vs. sourcing and shipping the goods directly from Montreal.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Nonsense!! How do think Alaska gets resupplied?!?! By Ro-Ro ferries that travel 3600 kms (one way) from Seattle to Anchorage. If it works fine there it can work here.

      • Posted by Asinine on

        Yes, RORO from Seattle to Alaska makes sense because it puts the bulk of the tansport on the ocean where it is cheapest. It wouldn’t make any sense to drive that cargo 1000 km further North to load it in Prince Rupert because sea transport is cheaper than road transport….so why would it make sense to drive Iqaluit-bound cargo 2000 km North when you could just load it in Montreal?

        • Posted by Northern Guy on

          Then you run the service from Montreal. My point is that RORO is a proven technology that is feasible and the GN’s assertion that it would cost millions in extra costs is nonsense.

        • Posted by Northern Guy on

          Then you run the ferries from Montreal or the closest deep sea port with convenient access to existing transport hubs. My point is that RORO ferries work and are cost effective and the GN’s assertion that it would be too costly to include them in the port design are absolute nonsense

          • Posted by Asinine on

            Are you suggesting that sea shipping cargo loaded on/in trucks would be more efficient than shipping via containers and sea crates? I can’t claim to be an expert on that, but some pretty simply logic suggests that you’d lose a lot of revenue space to truck cabs and undercarriage that would otherwise be packed tightly with containers and sea crates. Also…where are those trucks going when they get to Iqaluit…are they just loaded back onto a ferry empty for the return trip?

  3. Posted by Fred on

    Why not just design a vehicle lift for the cranes, then it would be “lift on lift off”, instead of “roll on roll off”. Doesn’t it really accomplish the same thing?

  4. Posted by Andrew on

    The whole idea really makes no sense. Theoretically taking a truck on the ferry from Iqaluit to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to purchase groceries? Ever been to Goose Bay? Costs there are still very high compared to the rest of southern Canada and the pinnacle of retail is a North Mart. I’l tell you now the North Mart in Goose Bay is only marginally better than the one in Iqaluit. Goods are cheaper though in Labrador City due to the presence of a Wal Mart and Canadian Tire. So you expect people to pay lots of money and take a ferry for days to travel to Labrador and then drive the 1080 km round trip to Lab City to shop at Wal Mart? Come on.

  5. Posted by iqaluit trapped on

    All the stupid wasteful things this government spends money on but something that would have improved the lives of everyone in Iqaluit is too expensive!!!

    • Posted by Free the mind on

      You just wanted to go on a “road” trip. Get over it.

  6. Posted by Sled dog on

    Poor Mr. LIGHTSTONE. perhaps have you ever realized why you are always surprised is you are not in cabinet and some things have to be kept quiet for security purposes. Instead of blaming Minister, have a look at whomever does your research. Perhaps you will be less surprised as a result

  7. Posted by Putuguk on

    This is ridiculous. The GN could make whatever dock they want, it don’t mean certain vessel traffic will begin automatically. Ferries need to be profitable. In order to be profitable they need business – the more volume the better. Well first off there is no water to float a ferry three quarters of the year. Then, there is the volume of vehicles and passengers that a city of 10,000 with a few Kms of local roads would generate which is not much. Comparing Iqaluit to places like Alaska is nonsense. The Alaska ferry system makes sense because they are mostly ice free the entire year, move 350,000 people a year and 100,000 vehicles and allow access to 2500 km of roads fora population of 800,000 people. Plus all the economic activity from a large resource sector and a huge tourism sector. GN performance is bad enough without them taking the blame for simple economics.

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