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A former NTCL barge in Norman Wells. The territorial government now operates the now-defunct company’s barges. (NTCL) An assistant deputy minister with the N.W.T. government says a supply barge delayed by nearly a month should arrive in Tulita within the next day or two, and that logistical issues and fuel delays are to blame for the long wait.

This is the first season the territorial government has operated supply barges down the Mackenzie River, after it bought the assets of the now-defunct Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL) in December. The territory released a barge schedule in mid-May, but it has been altered numerous times, and some communities are seeing their shelves go bare as they wait for their goods to arrive.

"This past season, it’s been somewhat challenging," said John Vandenberg, an assistant deputy minister with the territory’s Department of Infrastructure.

"We have overcome our problems. We did have some delays with the logistics of getting fuel into Hay River and loading them into our barges.

"But having said that, the fuel was all loaded a couple days ago … within a day or two we should be into Tulita and on to Fort Good Hope by the 30th of the month."

Vandenberg said the territory’s first season operating the barges was not without challenges. Much of NTCL’s equipment was in Inuvik when it was purchased, meaning the territorial government had to bring it back to Hay River, where it was then inspected by Transport Canada before heading back down the river. Shelves are getting bare at the Northern Store in Tulita, N.W.T., as the community waits for the government barge to arrive. The shipment is more than three weeks late. (Submitted by Paul Andrew) Next year, Vandenberg expects the barges will start the season in Hay River.

"What we’re going to do next year … we’ll have vessels and barges put in place in Hay River," Vandenberg said. "We’ll be able to pre-load some of the fuel next year.

"So any bumps in supply will be mitigated, they will be smoothed out, and we won’t have to wait … and I think that’s going to cure a lot of these problems." ‘Our objective … is to get product into the communities’

Responding to concerns from affected community members that the resupply took a backseat to fulfilling lucrative mining contracts — the territory had previously said it intended to run the barging services at a profit — Vandenberg said the government’s priority is to move goods into the communities.

"Our intention is to have a viable operation," he said. "It needs to be both operationally viable and financially viable. Having said that, this is an essential service, and we need to make sure that the objective here is not to be missed.

"The objective is to make sure that essential goods get into these communities."

Vandenberg said "perhaps some reason for the delay" was because the territory was waiting on petroleum to be loaded for the communities, but not for their mining contracts.

"But in terms of prioritizing, our objective, first and foremost, is to get goods and petroleum into our communities.

"We do apologize for anybody who was inconvenienced," he said. "I think people are understanding that this is our inaugural year. We appreciate people’s patience, and we understand that in a couple of days the people who haven’t been served will be served."

With files from Loren McGinnis

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