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Airport fuel contract stirs up political trouble

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, December 20, 2007

LIIDLII KUE/FORT SIMPSON - The Liidlii Kue First Nation and Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche are questioning the way the Department of Transportation is handling the contract for aviation fuel services at the Fort Simpson airport.

Refuelling services haven't been available at the airport since approximately mid-November when Norman Wells Petroleum ran out of Jet A fuel and stopped offering the service, said Ben Webber, the assistant director of programs and standards for the airport division.

NNSL photo

Refueling services have not been available for airplanes at the Fort Simpson airport since mid-November. On Dec. 4 Norman Wells Petroleum had its lease terminated that allowed them to operate the service and keep these fuel tanks at the airport. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

On Dec. 4 the Department of Transportation terminated Norman Wells Petroleum's lease, which allowed them to offer the service and keep fuel tanks at the airport. The department started steps to issue a request for proposals for the service. The request was expected to be distributed by Dec. 17, Webber said.

"The people of Fort Simpson deserve to have the service there," said Webber.

Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche said this is not how he was led to believe the contract process would unfold.

Shortly after fuel services were stopped at the airport, Menicoche met Michel Lafrance, the regional superintendent of transportation, to discuss a proposal from Landmark Logistics, an aboriginal joint venture group, to offer the service.

Menicoche said he also met with Norman Yakeleya, the minister of Transportation. Although the department decided that the proposal from Landmark Logistics didn't meet the necessary criteria, talks continued after Landmark got the backing of the Liidlii Kue First Nation (LKFN), said Menicoche.

LKFN was planning to partner with Landmark through their economic arm Nogha Enterprises Ltd. to offer the service.

Up until Dec. 7 Yakeleya was willing to begin negotiations with LKFN, Menicoche said.

"I thought we had some sort of agreement that we were going to move ahead with the negotiation process with LKFN," he said.

On Monday Dec. 10, Menicoche said he received a memo from Yakeleya stating that due to the urgency of airlines needing fuel a request for proposals would be initiated.

"I was very disappointed in the change in direction at the last minute, said Menicoche.

Menicoche said he had hoped Nogha Enterprises would be able to expand their business by establishing a refuelling service at the airport in partnership with Landmark.

The request for proposal process can take a long time and it will give people outside of the village a chance to take away this much-needed opportunity, he said.

By starting the request for proposal process, Menicoche said Yakeleya is working against the visions and goals that the 16th legislative assembly just set out. One of the priorities is to support a diversified economy and economic growth in the regions.

"The minister supports the bureaucracy rather than the communities," said Menicoche.

The Liidlii Kue First Nation is also disappointed by the government's decision to go to request for proposals, said Dennis Nelner, the senior band manager.

LKFN saw the aviation fuel service contract as an opportunity to create income through Nogha Enterprises and become more self-sufficient, said Nelner.

Nogha had begun discussion to form a joint venture with Landmark Logistics to offer the service, said Nelner. The government, however, quickly decided they wouldn't look at the opportunity and went to request for proposals, he said.

The government says they support aboriginal communities but their actions don't show that, said Nelner.

"They're supposed to be supporting aboriginal businesses and here they are closing the doors," he said.

Nelner wasn't sure if Nogha will compete in the request for proposals.

Using a request for proposals to find someone to offer aviation fuel services at an airport is an uncommon situation for the Department of Transportation to be in, said Ben Webber.

Normally anyone who can demonstrate they can provide a safe, reliable service can submit a proposal for a lease and have their application considered.

In the case of the Fort Simpson airport, no one came forward with a viable proposal, said Webber. The proposal submitted by Landmark was evaluated but didn't meet the criteria, he said.

The decision was made to go to a formal request for proposals process to ensure that someone began offering the service, said Webber.

"We got to a point where we could wait no longer," he said.

Using the process is the best and most expedient way of resuming the service, added Webber.

"It will be to the benefit of the community to get the best proponent possible providing the service."

The department never entered into discussions with LKFN or had formal negotiations with Nogha, he said.

"We would welcome their proposal," he said.

The request for proposals period is scheduled to close on Jan. 24 at which point the proposals will be considered on the basis of the ability to provide a safe and reliable source of aviation fuel and benefits to the community, Webber said.