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Community, government must adapt to booming economy

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BAKER LAKE - The community of Baker Lake is slowly realizing there's a knack to handling a booming economy.

The community recently had one million litres of fuel hauled in by a Hercules aircraft when it was realized its fuel reserves were not going to last until the first sealift.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Fiona Angatarjuak, Surya Angatarjuak and Kandice Kashla, from left, share a laugh with Northern store employee Doreen Kenalogak in Baker Lake this past week. The store has adapted to the increased needs of a community with a slowly booming economy. - photo courtesy of Kyle Seeley

The 40 loads of fuel were sent into Baker at a cost of $1.6 million.

Community and Government Services assistant deputy minister Shawn Maley said the planes delivered 200,000 litres of gas and 800,000 litres of diesel.

"When we realized Baker's supply wasn't going to be enough we thought someone must be selling fuel to the mining companies, but we went through our contractor's accounts and nothing abnormal showed up," said Maley.

"Almost every fuel account, private and commercial, has increased in the community this year.

"If fuel is being sold to someone it shouldn't be, there's 250 people involved, and that's not the case.

"Our margins are relatively healthy in a normal year, but if everybody's fuel tank is full and there's a lot of new vehicles and construction projects in town, that's all it takes for the supply to dissipate."

Baker's tank farm has a capacity of 6.2 million litres of diesel and 1.6 million of gasoline.

Maley said increased employment and residential school payments played major roles in Baker having to have additional fuel flown in.

He said the five-year historical amount of fuel used, plus 10 per cent, didn't meet the increased demand.

"In retrospect, we should have known that was too tight and brought in more.

"We did have more fuel scheduled to go into Baker than what we brought in.

"But they had to keep the tank farm empty while they worked on it in Whale Cove and the work got done late.

"We had to redirect part of the last fuel shipment bound for Baker into Whale Cove, which still gave us numbers we thought we'd be OK with, but that turned out to be wishful thinking."

Maley said a couple of exploration companies did ask for fuel, but were denied.

He said contractors must notify the government if they're asked for a large amount of fuel, but that doesn't stop companies from buying a couple of drums here and there.

"Some of the fuel would have gone to mining companies that way, for sure.

"But those kinds of things aren't going to make you one million litres short.

"But it all adds up and when 250 accounts are up instead of 10, you're going to have a problem, and we did."

Maley said now that the government knows what to expect, Baker's tank farm will be filled to capacity this year.

He said the government should have seen this coming, but didn't.

"Everyone has to start paying closer attention to communities where there's real development going on.

"The landing cost of the million litres we flew in will be covered by the Petroleum Products fund.

"The economy is booming in Baker right now and we're all going to have to adjust to that."

Northern store manager Allan Hart, who has been in Baker for 32 years, has seen a dramatic rise in business during the past year.

Hart said the store learned from the demand in 2007 and was better prepared this year.

He said there are now more people in place at the management level to help with everything.

"We've seen our volume increase to five plane loads a week from three.

"Last year's increase took everyone by surprise and we weren't ready for it.

"We didn't have anyone in place for taking mining orders, but now we have three people at the store who do nothing but that.

"The biggest challenge has been getting in fresh food, but having the airline take it in from Thompson now instead of Churchill has helped a lot."

The Northern store is planning for the future with employment up in the hamlet.

Hart said the company is looking at trying to acquire more lots in Baker.

He said exact plans won't be known until five year capital planning is complete.

"We have one mine going and if the other one goes our store will be too small to meet the community's needs.

"We've increased our staff and rented another house in town for new management.

"We would have rented two if we could have, but housing's at a premium in town and not easy to get.

"Two years ago a three-bedroom house would rent for $2,300 a month with everything included, but you can add $1,000 to that now."