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No gas panic yet

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Longtime Yellowknife resident Norma French-Heslep remembers panic last November when the Merv Hardie ferry was forced to shut down, but like many Yellowknife residents and businesses, she's not worried it will happen again.

NNSL photo/graphic

Norma French-Heslep fills up at the Yk Motors gas station Monday afternoon. She says she isn't concerned about possible delays with the Merv Hardie ferry across the Mackenzie River and what that might mean for supplies of gasoline in the city. - Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison/NNSL photo

Although she saw people trying to fill up 45-gallon drums last November, and was turned away at the pump for trying to buy fuel for her generator, she said she's no longer fazed by reports that the Merv Hardie ferry will be delayed.

"If worst comes to worst, I'd have to stay with someone in town and walk everywhere. I don't mind," said French-Heslep, who is living outside the city.

The Mackenzie River ice crossing closed April 11, and Yellowknifers are relying on goods they have stockpiled since then.

"We have about six weeks supply (of gasoline) from when it closed. I guess we have another three weeks left," said Ben Walker, general manager of the Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op.

Preparing for delays with the ferry crossing is like "building a bomb shelter," according to Mikey McBryan, general manager of Buffalo Airways.

The airline is watching Mackenzie River water levels at the Fort Providence and has prepared for the worst.

Last November, when the crossing unexpectedly closed for nine days, tanker trucks were left stranded on the wrong side of the river, gas supplies dwindled, prices hit $1.99 per litre and Gastown even had to cap purchases at $40 after customers began stockpiling fuel.

Earl Blacklock, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said the Mackenzie River ferry crossing will probably open mid-May.

As of May 2, water levels were "quite normal" at just over 151 metres above sea level.

He added levels are expected to drop when the ice breakup begins in Mackenzie River, most likely later this week, but that it's hard to say by how much.

"We're just keeping an eye out for breakup at this point and once breakup occurs we will be able to do a manual monitor," Blacklock said.

In the meantime, some local businesses are doing their best to not be caught unprepared like last November, when the ferry shut down for nine days.

"In the fall, it took everyone for surprise and that was way more dangerous," McBryan said.

"The benefit, even though this might be a record length for the ferry being out, is that everyone knows (it's happening)."

Buffalo Airways has already called its main supplier, Shell, to make sure its aviation fuel tanks in Yellowknife are full, and has prepared contingencies to get fuel from Hay River and Norman Wells.

"It's basically like building a bomb shelter. It's when that bomb comes out of nowhere that you're stuck," McBryan said.

Midnight Petroleum, which supplies fuel for the Yellowknife Airport, has also built up sufficient inventories.

"We planned with every contingency for a lengthy delay at this point," said CEO Jean-Marc Miltenberger.

For the most part, local gas stations haven't made any changes.

Jamie Pye, manager at Gastown, said although he couldn't estimate how long fuel supplies would last, and said he's confident they have enough in place at the moment.

"It all depends on sales," he added.

Jimmy Kong, owner of the Monkey Tree Gas Bar, said he wasn't sure how much fuel they have going into May.

"I don't have a clue, I've never thought about it ... We're just doing our regular thing. Every year we do the same."

Over at Winks, manager Hafiz Shakoor hasn't noticed a change either. "It's quite normal, I haven't seen anything different," he said.

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