Sudden closure of Aklavik ice road leaves community angry, confused

Sudden closure of Aklavik ice road leaves community angry, confused

A sudden closure of the ice road between the N.W.T. communities of Aklavik and Inuvik has Aklavik's mayor raising concerns about a lack of consultation, as well as how the isolated community will receive supplies that are currently en route.

The Beaufort Delta community of Aklavik is accessible during the winter by ice road from Inuvik. In the summer, the community is only accessible by airplane or boat.

On Monday afternoon, the ice road was abruptly closed by the territorial government's infrastructure department. It noticed a large, nearly 100-metre crack on the side of the road.

"We don't want anybody to get hurt, obviously," said Merle Carpenter, the infrastructure department's regional superintendent for the Beaufort Delta.

"And these sorts of incidents, with global warming and climate change, just kind of pop up on us. There was no indication the ice road would crack or fail like that. It just happened suddenly."

The crack was first noticed Sunday by inspectors, said Carpenter, who immediately placed cones around it and lowered the road's load limit to 10,000 kilograms. On Monday, a project officer inspected the ice again, determining that the road needed to close immediately.

'They didn't respect the community or its residents'

That determination is of little consolation to Aklavik mayor Charlie Furlong, who sent a letter to the territory's minister of Infrastructure Tuesday asking for the ice road to be re-opened.

Furlong said the crack noticed by inspectors is well-known by ice road builders, who have been "dealing with it" for years.

"It's there every fall when we're building the road," said Furlong. "It's just a sand bar under there. And then in the spring, on the snow, it drops into there. It's really no big deal.

"Our builder himself, he says that road is still over four, five feet thick of ice. That one little section, people just pull farther over on the side and they get by. There's nothing wrong with that."

Furlong is particularly concerned about the lack of notice given to Aklavik residents, many of whom use the last few days of the ice road season to make trips into Inuvik for supplies. The hamlet itself has supplies en route to the community, he said, including a steamer that will be used to unplug culverts around town.

"It caught everybody off guard," he said of the decision. "They should have consulted with the community.

"They didn't respect the community or its residents. We're still trying to make use of the road."

Furlong's letter asks for the territorial government to re-open the road for "a few more days," but Carpenter said this season, that's not an option.

"The road's closed," he said. "We won't be maintaining it any further. We did it for safety reasons. That was the only thing."