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Senators launch fact-finding mission

Brodie Thomas
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 16, 2008

INUVIK - A group of senators travelling on a fact-finding mission through the NWT have heard that Northerners are more concerned with developing infrastructure than the environment.

The standing senate committee on energy, the environment, and natural resources travelled to Yellowknife, Norman Wells, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, and Whitehorse to hear the concerns of Northerners. The fact-finding mission was billed as an investigation on "the environmental impacts of economic development" and how Northerners are "adapting to climate change."

But committee chair Senator Tommy Banks said he had heard more concerns about lack of infrastructure than climate change.

"The most important thing we need to get moving more quickly is the development of more infrastructure in the north of all kinds," said Banks.

He defined infrastructure as education and transportation, saying if those two areas were improved, overall conditions in the North would improve as well.

Banks said that red tape was another big concern the committee was hearing.

"Another thing we're hearing about is the sort of spaghetti bowl of approvals that are required for anything to happen here," he explained. "You know, there are 17 different boards that somebody has to go though to get something approved, and the impact that has on cost or getting something done."

He said the committee was hearing this complaint from just about everyone, including those involved in giving approvals.

Although the committee set out to hear concerns about climate change and the environment, Banks said concern about climate change was mixed with some people saying that it isn't affecting them at all and others voicing grave concerns about erosion and changes in weather.

"The further north we get, the more we hear people saying, 'yes, it's affecting us,'" said Banks.

For Banks there is little doubt that the climate is changing.

"The argument about why it's happening is almost now beside the point. What are we going to do about it? Particularly in the North because the North is the canary in the coal mine," said Banks

Inuvik Mayor Derek Lindsay said he believed that climate change was one of the main problems behind failing infrastructure.

"I explained to them our problems with climate change such as degradation of permafrost and how it is affecting our local infrastructure, that is buildings, roads, and our utilidor system," said Lindsay.

One of Inuvik's biggest expenses is the utilidor system of sewer and water pipes. The system was constructed 50 years ago with the founding of Inuvik, and is now maintained by the town.

"We spend anywhere from a million to a million and a half a year replacing sections of that utilidor. The federal government just walked away from Inuvik several years ago and said, 'there, it's yours,'" said Lindsay.

The mayor said he is hopeful that the federal government's new awareness of these problems may mean more financial aid to communities in the north.