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Ferry stalled

Low water levels and ice jam in Great Slave Lake

Kirsten Murphy
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 13/00) - The Merv Hardie ferry may have crossed the MacKenzie River for one of the last times in 2000.

Ice build-up shut down the one-kilometre service on Monday. This is the second closure in less than two weeks -- not so unusual given the cold weather.

But with only two weeks left in December and transportation crews already working on an ice bridge, the end of ferry service -- for this year -- may be near.

Optimism prevails, though. Marine Services director Les Shaw said a hydraulic excavator on the ships bow would chop a channel on Thursday.

"We will get it running again but we won't even try for a couple days," Shaw said Tuesday afternoon.

"We appreciate (the shut down) in an inconvenience for the public."

Buffalo Airways and First Air are transporting people and products to Yellowknife in the meantime.

Small vehicles may cross the ice before Christmas, said Art Barnes, regional superintendent for the department of transportation.

"It really depends on the weather," he said of ice driving. "First we have to wait for the main channel to freeze."

Ten days after all surface water stops flowing, a three-kilometre service road for "light" vehicles up to 4,000 kilograms will be built. Three weeks later and cold weather permitting, a major ice bridge will replace the service road. Super B Trains and cargo trucks up to 64,000 kg can cross the main bridge. The bridge is 6.5 km upstream from the ferry crossing.

Community groups are bracing for the economic fallout ferry closures and no ice bridge present.

"Normally, prices go up on everything," said Arlene Hache, Women's Centre executive director, when asked about food for low income families.

"People simply have to make do."

Extra Foods -- one of two major grocery chains in town -- was tight lipped about food cost and food availability.

Company spokesperson Dave Ryzebol refused to say what difference shoppers might notice.

"I can't predict that any better than you can say how long the ferry will be out," he quipped.

"We do our best to keep the shelves stocked... why don't you take a look and see what's (missing or not) on the shelves."

Ferry service has been on-again, off-again for the last 10 days.

Ron Courtoreille, Liquor Commission general manager, said ferry interruptions are part of Northern living.

"We may run out of some speciality items (draft beer) but I don't seen any problem with our regular beers, wines and spirits," he said.

Janet Robinson, RTL Robinson Enterprises Ltd. said their terminal in Enterprise had trucks waiting to cross as of Tuesday morning but didn't know how many.

Last winter, ferry service ceased for 17 days because insufficient water levels prevented the formation of an ice bridge.