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GNWT ‘to continue emergency dredging’ of Hay River harbour

A photo shows vessels on the water outside Hay River, one of which was reported to have been stranded on a sandbar, in the summer of 2022.

Posted on September 20, 2023

The NWT government will push emergency Hay River harbour dredging into October to make up for lost time, according to a notice posted online by the town.

For years, if not decades, calls have grown for the harbour to be dredged as sediment built up and navigating its waterways became increasingly challenging.

While dredging was once a routine activity for Hay River, which serves as a hub for shipment of goods along the Mackenzie River, it hasn’t occurred with any regularity since the late 1990s.

The GNWT, in documents published this summer, declared an “emergency scenario” since safe navigation was no longer guaranteed, particularly with water in Great Slave Lake at an all-time low. The territory has said it will proceed with dredging and seek federal cash to cover the millions of dollars the work is expected to cost.

But while work started in August, it was abandoned within days as the community of Hay River was evacuated over an oncoming wildfire. Only this week are residents returning.

“Based on the extent of emergency dredging remaining and the urgency for maintaining navigation channels in 2024, it is important this work resume once public re-entry is permitted,” read a notice posted by the Town of Hay River to Facebook. The notice appeared to be a copy of an update originally issued by the NWT government’s Department of Infrastructure. The department has been approached for comment.

The notice asserted that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the federal agency responsible for the harbour, had granted an extension for the work to continue into October, despite concerns about when fish migration might take place.

“The triggers for fish migration, including changes to water temperature and flow, have likely been delayed this year given the unseasonably warm temperatures and sustained low precipitation and water levels,” the notice read.

“As a result, it is expected that an extension to the dredging window will not result in increased risk of interactions between dredging activities and fish.”

The extension will run until October 7. Fish activity will be monitored, the notice stated, and work paused to allow fish to migrate upstream as necessary.

The notice stated the GNWT is “committed to maintaining the viability of this critical resupply hub, upon which many communities of the NWT are reliant, while ensuring that risks to the environment are mitigated.”


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