A contractor in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, burned three skids — or pallets — worth of flooring material in a bonfire on the weekend.
Peter Laube of Kavlik Enterprises says the flooring was "completely saturated" with mould when it was delivered by Marine Transportation Services earlier this month.
"The flooring stunk so bad."
Laube said he got permission from the hamlet to burn the mouldy materials so they wouldn't get salvaged from the dump and end up in someone's home.
The flooring was among the items MTS has flown into the Nunavut communities of Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, and Paulatuk, N.W.T., since it cancelled its barge last month. The barge, originally scheduled for August, was delayed until late September, then turned around by ice near Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.
The N.W.T. government-owned barge company has been flying items to the communities on a priority basis, from its storage facilities in Inuvik.
Derrick Briggs, director of MTS, said almost everything that can be flown into the communities already has been delivered. There are just two more flights this week, to Paulatuk and Kugluktuk, to bring in the last of the cargo, he said.
There are some businesses that won't see any of their materials before next year's barge and are left to bear devastating financial losses over the winter.
'Who's going to be responsible?'
Laube thinks the flooring got mouldy because of how MTS was storing and handling it in Inuvik.
Briggs said MTS has found no issues on its end.
"Our preliminary investigation indicated we have not seen any such damage to flooring," he said.
Briggs said MTS is not responsible for any damage. Briggs said it's up to the shippers to purchase insurance if they choose.
"We do not compensate shippers for damage to cargo."
Briggs said the department has not received any other formal complaints regarding damaged cargo.
He also noted that shippers are responsible for packaging their cargo to be able to sustain exposure to the weather.
Stuart Rostant of Chou Consulting and Development in Cambridge Bay won't see any of the building materials for his new four-plex condominium until the 2019 barge season, due to the impracticality of having all it flown in.
That arrangement leaves his company to carry the costs for the project for another year, something he says is "going to be tough."
Rostant is also worried about what condition his goods will be in by 2019, after they overwinter in Inuvik. Rostant says Chou has already lost $30,000 in items that froze, like paint and drywall mud. He hopes that can be recuperated through insurance.
"Our material is now going to be handled a few more times, so there's potential for damage," he said. "What's going to happen if all our pieces don't arrive? Who's going to be responsible for that?"
Rostant plans to ask MTS for written confirmation that all their materials will arrive in good condition, and as soon as the route is ice-free. He's also considering making a trip to Inuvik in the spring to take stock of the condition of his goods.
Briggs said some goods froze because the shipper did not declare perishable goods in the contents of the cargo. He said anything MTS was aware of that was perishable was removed from its crates and put into warm storage.
He said everything else that didn't get flown out will be moved into covered, unheated storage for the winter.
'GNWT step up and fix this mess!'
Laube stands in front of nearly bare shelving units that he says are usually full of materials for making kitchen cabinets. He says they now barely have enough materials to finish one project, let alone a winter's worth.
"We have houses that are under construction that are now at a standstill," he said.
Laube is especially frustrated because he says he hadn't gotten any response from MTS since receiving the mouldy flooring.
"They don't answer any emails, they don't return phone calls." he said.
Laube has already penned a letter to MTS with a litany of complaints, demanding, in big bold text: "GNWT step up and fix this mess!"
Since MTS isn't doing any more flights into Cambridge Bay, Laube will be flying materials in himself in order to fulfil contract obligations.
"We're going to take a major loss on these jobs because these jobs were all quoted out on barge costs, not on airlifting it," he said. "And not on buying it twice."
Laube says if he doesn't get an appropriate response from MTS, he's considering legal action.
"With this disaster here, it's getting out of control."
This is the second year the government's barge transportation service has run into problems. Last summer, the barge schedule changed three times and many communities received their shipments about four weeks after the expected arrival date.
Briggs said MTS will be ready for next year's barging season, "depending on safe sailing conditions," and they are planning to start earlier in the season.