N.W.T. to end regular barge service to Cambridge Bay due to low demand

·2 min read
Four new MTS barges seen in 2020. The Northwest Territories government confirmed that it's discontinuing regular barge service to Cambridge Bay, effective this summer.  (GNWT Department of Infrastructure - image credit)
Four new MTS barges seen in 2020. The Northwest Territories government confirmed that it's discontinuing regular barge service to Cambridge Bay, effective this summer. (GNWT Department of Infrastructure - image credit)

Starting this summer, the Northwest Territories' Marine Transportation Services (MTS) will no longer run a barge service to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

It follows what the government says was "consistently low customer demand." The N.W.T. government, which operates MTS, publicly confirmed the news on Thursday.

The territory did not make anyone available for an interview, but, in a written response to the CBC's questions, said it "regularly reviews community needs and operational goals to provide reliable and affordable marine cargo transportation services while managing public funds responsibly."

"Scheduled service to Cambridge Bay has experienced low volumes of cargo since MTS first offered the service in 2017, and the service has proved to be uneconomical," the reply said.

The territory also said shippers and past customers of MTS "have been advised accordingly."

MTS is not discontinuing regular barges operations to the other communities it services in the Great Slave Lake, Mackenzie River, and Western Arctic coast regions. The government said it had no plans to resume scheduled cargo service to Cambridge Bay, but added that cargo can still be shipped there via companies in Quebec or by charter.

'It's all frustrating'

At least one business is worried about the financial impact the discontinuation will have.

"It's going to cost us more money," Enokhok Developments' general manager Ed Romijn told CBC. The property management company's main office is based in Edmonton but it runs two inns in Nunavut — one in Cambridge Bay, and the other in Kugluktuk.

Romijn said Enokhok used the MTS barge almost every year to ship building materials, sea cans and vehicles from Alberta to Cambridge Bay, but lost trust after the barge didn't make it in 2018 due to sea ice conditions.

While Romijn said he was frustrated that MTS never compensated his company for the additional costs it incurred because the barge didn't arrive, the service was still easier and cheaper than the alternative — sending everything to Montreal, where it's then put on a ship.

He estimated that using Quebec-based shippers cost about $20,000 to $30,000 more per year, and with recent increases in lumber prices and other building materials, said the already-high price of construction and housing would be pushed even higher.

"It's all frustrating, but again, there's nothing we can do," Romijn said. "Us, as a business, we've got to keep going and then, just like everything, the high costs get passed on to the consumers."