Operation plan coming for Iqaluit deep-sea port, but not opening this season, says minister

·5 min read
The construction of a deep sea port just outside of Iqaluit, pictured in June. The port is supposed to be ready by end of August.  (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)
The construction of a deep sea port just outside of Iqaluit, pictured in June. The port is supposed to be ready by end of August. (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)

The Nunavut government will have an operation plan in place for Iqaluit's long-awaited deep-sea port in the next few months.

That's according to Economic Development and Transportation Minister David Akeeagok.

Despite the project's construction expected to be done by late August, Akeeagok told the Legislature earlier this month that there had not been a decision yet on who will run the port or how.

He told CBC News recently that a consultant firm  — Advisian Worley Group — has been hired to come up with that management plan and that work is still underway.

"It's taking a while to get that portion done," he said.

He's expecting a report from the consultant "any time," which the territory will have to look over and accept before it's set in stone, but he said the report likely won't be public until August or September. The report will also cover safety, equipment and rules on docking fees, he said.

Akeeagok expects personnel training for port workers to happen over the coming winter.

The project, estimated to be about $85 million and to include a small craft harbour, had previously been anticipated to be complete in 2020, and operating by fall 2021. The city of Iqaluit first spearheaded the concept of the deep-sea port in 2005.

Back in 2016, then-assistant deputy minister for the Department of Economic Development and Transportation said the port would initially be owned and operated as a territorial government asset, but it floated the idea of a harbour authority to operate and manage it.

There have been renewed calls for the sea port over the years with the shipments containing annual resupply being often delayed by ice and weather. In one instance, in 2015 a shipment made it to Iqaluit shores with the help of an icebreaker, and was several weeks behind schedule. In 2019, reports of large chunks of sea ice floating in Frobisher Bay held up the transport of construction materials into Iqaluit and causing delays to the port project.

Without a port operation plan in place, and, Akeeagok said, because opening a seaport would be disruptive, the port won't open until at least next season.

"We made a decision that ... physically we can't have it open this season just because of the two sealift offices will need to be moved there and few other things that would need to be moved in order for it to be functional. And doing it halfway through a shipping season might be too disruptive."

Beth Brown/CBC
Beth Brown/CBC

Akeeagok said the main benefit to having the port will be to cut down the time it takes for ships to unload. This will allow the ship to get to their next destinations sooner too, he added.

It's not clear whether the new port will cut costs for Nunavut consumers, he said.

The road between the port and the city also still needs work. Akeeagok said the territory has agreed to help fund it.

Mayor, sealift company say they've not been updated

Meanwhile, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said so far this year, he hasn't heard an update about the port project from the territory.

"There's been no correspondence this year that I know of anyways, I haven't been provided any information on the port since last summer," Bell said.

"It's gonna be a good addition to our community. And hearing … that they don't even have a plan to operate was kind of shocking."

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

He said the sealift companies that service the city shouldn't be too affected by this as "they're used to not having the port."

"So I mean, they're gonna function just like they normally do regardless, it's just, it would have been nice to have all that information ready for this sealift season," Bell said.

Bell said he believes the port — once its operating — will "definitely" help the city and its developers and citizens do sealift orders.

For instance, he says the port will make it cheaper to bring in supplies for the city's water upgrade project.

"As we fix our water supply, there's going to be a major boom in housing here. And that's going to be cheaper and faster to offload goods to make that happen," Bell said.

He wasn't sure if the port will make bringing in goods to Iqaluit cheaper for residents, partly because globally there's a spike in fuel prices.

But he added, "hopefully, over the long run, it will start to work itself out to be cheaper, because it's faster and we can get more stuff in."

"The speed is a huge benefit regardless of costs," he said.

"We need that port in operation and we need the speed of unloading so that we can bring in more supplies to get … our water situation and our housing situation back under control."

Marc André Bougie, vice president of sales marketing at Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. (NEAS), said the company also hasn't had much update from the territory.

Bougie said his company usually only hears updates on the port about once or twice a year.

"All we know is that the port is not scheduled to be in operation for the 2022 sealift season," Bougie said. "The GN [Government of Nunavut] hasn't really communicated with us regarding the completion of the port or how it's going to be managed."

He said more information would help the company plan its operations.

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

As for the construction, Simon-Pier Laberge, project manager for Tower Arctic, the construction company working on the port, said it's almost wrapped up. There are a few tasks left to complete, like electrical wiring, installing a small craft harbour and a boat ramp among others.

Laberge said part of the delay to the project is due to a slightly strained relationship with the territory at times, including some design issues. Transportation Minister Akeeagok alluded to this as well and said both have agreed to arbitration.

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused some setbacks too, Laberge said.

"We're now close to the end and we're hoping to finish by the end of August," Laberge said. "So, that's what we're planning for now."