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N.W.T. looking for dredging money, but not on one Hay River MLA’s timeline

A file photo of a dredger in PEI. The Hay River channel in the N.W.T. used to be dredged regularly. Since the federal government stopped the program in the mid-1990s, there's been a buildup of sediment, sometimes preventing boats from getting through.

Posted on October 19, 2022

An N.W.T. MLA is pleading with the territory’s infrastructure minister to dredge the Hay River harbour.

Rocky Simpson, who represents Hay River South, said the process of removing silt and mud from the bottom of bodies of water is essential for the safety and navigation of vessels — which resupply communities, ship construction materials, and carry out search and rescue missions, among other things.

Calls for dredging have been growing after a series of vessels — from Aug 24 to as recently as last week — have gotten stuck.

Simpson called on Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie to secure dredging for waterways before next spring’s shipping season in Monday’s sitting of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly.

Business case needed for federal support

A federal report from the standing committee on fisheries and oceans says dredging is a priority because it maintains “safe access to harbours” and “adequate water depths,” Simpson pointed out.

He said the report is evidence the federal government supports dredging, and the territory needs to “do [its] homework” and present “a solid business case” for it.

Rocky Simpson, the MLA for Hay River South, is pressing the N.W.T. government to work on getting the Hay River harbour dredged.

Archie and other N.W.T. ministers have sent “numerous” letters to the federal government “pressing the need” to get the work done, according to a previous email to CBC News from Darren Campbell, a spokesperson for the infrastructure department.

Simpson, however, doesn’t believe the department has ever put together a proper business case.

“We cannot continue to go hat in hand to the federal government asking for assistance with no justification,” he said. “That is why we continually get the door slammed in our face.”

He asked Archie to commit to presenting a business case to the feds by the end of the year.

Archie said her department will prepare a proposal for the federal government, but did not commit to Simpson’s timeline.

She said the department needs to do a full assessment of the situation first, and most of that work is completed in summer — including a bathymetric survey, which goes underwater to figure out the depth of a body of water. Archie said getting licences, environmental approvals and equipment will also take time.

N.W.T. Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie says her department will prepare a proposal for the federal government to dredge the harbour.

See what can be done now, says MLA

Simpson told CBC News he’s not satisfied with the minister’s response, and he told the assembly she was making the issue more complicated than it needs to be.

“We’ve got some silt buildup,” he said. “That’s it. Let’s just get rid of it.”

Simpson said the section of the channel that requires immediate attention isn’t a large area. He wants the department to break the project into pieces and do some parts of it earlier rather than later, instead of addressing the issue as a whole.

He also said it’s not true that bathymetric surveys need to be done during the summer. He said they’ve been done on the Liard and Mackenzie rivers during the winter months.

Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson previously told CBC News she thinks the buildup of sediment could have played a part in the flooding that happened this spring.

Simpson said he doesn’t think dredging before the flood would have had a big impact, but said it could have saved millions of dollars that could have been used to pay for dredging instead.


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