Fuel barge still high on Toker Point Tuktoyaktuk mayor says incident should be a warning sign
Northern News Services
Monday, October 10, 2016
The mayor of Tuktoyaktuk is warning the federal and territorial governments of the potential for a marine disaster after a fuel barge ran aground north of the community last month.
A barge carrying 50,000 litres of fuel is stranded on Toker Point, about 25 kilometres north of Tuktoyaktuk. Darrel Nasogaluak, Tuktoyaktuk's mayor, says the incident is a warning about potential environmental disasters in the area. - illustration courtesy of Google Maps
"We're using this situation as a learning experience," Darrel Nasogaluak said. "Although it's a bad situation, we'd like to use it and go somewhere with it."
On Sept. 2, a barge owned by Fathom Marine hit a sandbar outside Tuktoyaktuk, company president Niels Gram said during an interview with News/North the week of Sept. 12.
The barge was carrying about 50,000 litres of fuel at the time, said Jonathan (JJ) Brickett, the Canadian Coast Guard's superintendent of Environmental Response.
The tug broke free of the barge during the incident and the barge floated until it hit the beach at Toker Point, about 25 kilometres north of Tuktoyaktuk. A recovery effort about a week later failed and the tug was damaged in the process. It returned to Tuktoyaktuk where it was being repaired.
Nasogaluak and the Tuktoyaktuk Hamlet Council submitted a letter of concern about the incident to local media.
"The failure of best efforts by the owners of the barge, Fathom Marine, to recover it after almost a month and the inadequacy of the equipment used, demonstrate the need for the federal government and GNWT to be better prepared for a marine disaster in our area," the letter stated.
"This means ensuring that resources are established in Tuktoyaktuk to with fully trained and equipped agencies that are able to respond quickly and effectively to events like this when they occur."
Simply, Tuktoyaktuk isn't prepared to respond to a fuel spill, Nasogaluak said.
Currently, Tuktoyaktuk has one of the Arctic's three Coast Guard depots with equipment kits intended to mitigate fuel spills, Brickett said. The other two kits are in Iqaluit, Nu. and Churchill, Man.
But Nasogaluak said it's not enough.
"I know the Coast Guard has some oil spill capability, but it's more for just seasonal refuelling incidents," he said. "We'd like to be prepared for a little bit more than that."
In a statement to News/North dated Oct. 6, Fathom Marine president Niels Gram said removing the barge from Toker Point has been delayed.
"Fathom Marine continues to work with an integrated salvage team to remove the barge from Toker Point," he stated.
"Poor weather and a general lack of suitable vessels have caused delays in this operation, but we remain committed to making every effort to recover the barge as quickly as possible."
Work was scheduled to begin on Oct. 5 to remove the barge's fuel and have a helicopter transport it to Tuktoyaktuk in containers,
"The company came up with a very innovative approach and that is to lighter, to remove the fuel, and then transport it to Tuktoyaktuk where it is put in other tanks, and they're doing that by helicopter," Brickett said.
"So it's pumped into those tanks and somebody connects it to the helicopter and the helicopter flies it at low level into Tuktoyaktuk, drops the tank off and the tank is then emptied."
However, those efforts were also delayed as of Oct. 6, according to Gram.
While the goal is to recover the barge, Brickett said it is possible the barge will be left to overwinter where it now sits.
But Nasogaluak said Toker Point is a vital spring goose hunting area.
"I don't think you could have put the barge in a worse spot if you tried because of the location of our harvesting," he said.
The spring goose hunt provides a critical food supply for Tuktoyaktuk residents, he added.
"It's in an area that we use very heavily in the spring for our migratory bird hunt," he said.
"All throughout this whole area is very sensitive for people getting their year supply of migrating birds in the spring.
"It's right smack in the middle of the area that's really important to us."
Leaving the boat to overwinter on the beach would drastically impact the spring hunt, Nasogaluak said.
"If it has to overwinter there, we're going to have a real problem with our harvesters. Our families have been hunting the same areas for generations," Nasogaluak said.
"The boat is sitting in front of their hunting spots, I'm not sure where they will go."