By R. Bruce Striegler

“Basically, this Government since its inception in 1999 has advocated the need for marine infrastructure. The Inuit of Nunavut are well-connected to the oceans for subsistence harvesting, travel and many other uses,” says Jim Stevens, Assistant Deputy Minister of Transportation with Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation. Nunavut encompasses nearly two million square kilometres, with over 33,000 residents who live in 25 communities with populations ranging from130 persons to nearly 6,700. Nunavut has the longest shoreline of any province or territory in Canada, and all but one of its communities are on the coast.

That advocacy has finally yielded results. In March of this year, the Government of Nunavut agreed to provide $5 million to launch two new ports projects, and to deliver another $16 million this fall. This, in addition to the $63.7 million funding commitment from the former Conservative Government of Canada will see construction of a marine port and sea lift facilities in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, and a small craft facility at Pond inlet, 1,065 km north. The total estimated price tag of the projects is estimated at $84.9 million. Jim Stevens says, “From our high-level, conceptual planning to-date, at Pond Inlet, there will be a small-craft facility.” The plan includes construction of a sheltered harbour protected on both sides by breakwaters, with floating dock structures to accommodate 125 to 150 small craft vessels. “There is room for future expansion and there will be an improved re-supply facility to improve the efficiency and safety of unloading sealift traffic.” In addition, Stevens says they are planning a fixed docking face of about 150 metres for smaller fishing trawlers and similar vessels.

The growing use of the Northwest Passage as an emerging shipping lane can’t be ignored. In March of this year, Crystal Cruises announced its second, large luxury cruise through the Passage. Following a successful voyage last year, it has assigned the 259-metre Crystal Serenity, accompanied by a British icebreaker to make the journey this year. With 1,700 passengers and 655 crew, the vessel will cruise from New York to Alaska. The ship will call at Cambridge Bay on August 29 and days later, visit Pond Inlet. Increasingly, the southerly routes of the Northwest Passage have been ice-free, with a growing number of ships sailing through. Some news reports say the Chinese government has published a lengthy Northwest Passage shipping guidebook that lays the foundation for cargo vessels to sail across the top of Canada.

Building safe, efficient marine facilities for a growing north

“In Iqaluit, it’s one project but two distinct components. The first will be a deep-water port at what we refer to as the South Polaris site.” Stevens says this facility will be able to accommodate any re-supply vessel that currently calls on the community and anticipates it will have room for potentially larger re-supply vessels. “It will handle any of the tankers that call now and it will be able to accommodate the new Arctic patrol vessels being built.” He notes that the new deep water facility will handle sealift, military, and even some of the smaller cruise ships. “It’s going to have one dock face and a second element which contains an improved sealift ramp to be used in the event two sealift vessels arrive simultaneously, providing capacity to unload both ships at the same time.”

Commenting that there have been incidents where re-supply vessels have been kept off-shore for upwards of two weeks due to ice, high wind or tide conditions, Stevens says, “The benefits and efficiency of the project certainly include unloading re-supply ships. We’re hoping have turn-around under 72 hours.” Stevens tells us that the second component of the project will see improvements to the small craft harbour. “We have an existing breakwater here and basically, that’s it. Following some geo-technical work later this year, we hope to excavate some of the basin and are planning on connecting it to open water. We’ll also be providing floating dock structures, as there are no docks now, and getting access to your boat is problematic.”

Provisional plans call for completion of new facilities by 2020

Stevens says the plans also call for expanded passenger vehicle parking, as there’s virtually no parking now. Mr. Stevens says that wind and waves at both locations have weighed heavily on the planning for these facilities. “We’ve had a gauge at Pond Inlet transmitting data from the seabed to an engineering firm for the past six months, providing some historical information on ice, wind and waves.” He notes that at this time, the new facilities will be Government of Nunavut owned and operated assets. “However, a Transportation Act review, introduced to Parliament in February this year, alludes to the creation of an Arctic Harbour Authority. We’ve been advocating such an authority for both the facilities, on a local or regional basis. We haven’t put a lot of time into a governance structure yet, but as we move forward, it will be something we want to discuss with the Feds, because it makes sense from our perspective.”

“In 2016, which includes this summer and next winter, we expect to complete environmental baseline studies and then in early 2017, there’ll be a geo-technical program in both locations to confirm issues such as seabed composition, bed rock and similar information. This will allow us to put project proposals before the regulators, and we anticipate those being cleared through to allow a construction start in 2018. Pond Inlet will be a two-year project, so completion is likely by 2020. Iqaluit will start about the same time, but depending on regulators’ input, we expect a three to four year construction period which means a 2021 completion.” Stevens reiterates that safety is a keyword for the projects. “Without basic infrastructure we’re exposing the re-supply vessels or simple small craft operators to a lot of hazards and risks. The provision of safe docking facilities is critical not only for local residents and users, but in-bound sealift vessels and their crews.”

Sealift the backbone of the eastern Arctic community

Sealift is a strategic and vital link to re-supply the 25 Nunavut communities spanning the Arctic. Ocean-going ships, tugs and barges travel from several southern Canadian ports, carrying groceries, construction materials, vehicles or heavy equipment, and typically, sealift takes place between late June and late October. Prior to the creation of Nunavut, the Canadian Coast Guard provided organizational and logistical support in meeting the eastern Arctic’s dry cargo and bulk fuel requirements through a variety of carriers. This responsibility was ultimately transferred to the Government of Nunavut. As the government’s primary contract authority, the Department of Community and Government Services (CGS) is responsible for annual dry cargo re-supply and Petroleum Products is responsible for bulk fuel re-supply.

There are perhaps half a dozen private marine operators that provide sealift services to the eastern Arctic, and Canadian Sailings spoke with Suzanne Paquin, CEO of Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping (NEAS). In an earlier (2013) interview with Ms. Paquin for a Canadian Sailings story, she outlined the chief problems working in the Arctic, “The fact that it’s a seasonal operation is one factor, but one we feel we’ve overcome. The biggest issue we have is lack of infrastructure which adds tremendous cost to our operations.” She reels off a list of requirements that NEAS must provide to conduct its operations including lighting, fencing, clearing beaches, providing tugs and barges and monitoring tides. “We bring our entire infrastructure with us, we call it a vessel kit,” she explained at the time. NEAS’ four vessels provide container capacity totalling 2,594 TEUs (twenty foot equivalents).

Speaking with us now for this story, she says, “I began talking about the lack of infrastructure and the additional costs this incurs in 2008; there are no safe anchorages, no secure work areas, and few or no navigation aids. I was surprised at how little people knew about these conditions. Iqaluit is a community that has huge tides, sometimes as high as 35 feet, and we work presently at anchor, and we work around the tides, but we work anywhere from two to four hours through tides, unloading for a very long time. “We’ve increased our fleet and the size of our vessels, there has been a noticeable increase in population. We’re very happy with these developments but we still need long-term vision from the federal government.” She feels that there is no global view of northern development, no one leading a coordinated approach. “The Government of Nunavut is to be commended for what it has done, especially the port in Iqaluit. If we have leadership, we’ll have very positive outcomes.”