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Nanisivik downgrade a 'relief'
Concerns about economic, environmental impacts of naval facility had Arctic Bay worried

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, March 31, 2012

The federal government is reducing the scope of the Nanisivik Naval Facility to stay on budget, and Arctic Bay residents are "breathing a sigh of relief," Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott said.

NNSL photo/graphic

Nanisivik, pictured in summer 2009. - photo courtesy of Navy Public Affairs

"From what I've been hearing, the change is not a concern for the people of Arctic Bay," Elliott said. "If anything, they're breathing a sigh of relief because it's no longer (affecting) the aspect of the hunting and going out on the land."

Despite the fact the federal government remains committed to spending $100 million on the project, which was announced in 2007, little of that cash will stay in the hamlet.

"People became aware that there would not be a lot of economic impact coming to the community," Elliott said.

"When we initially heard about the program when it was first brought to our attention the community was happy. We thought the scope of the project was more than just a military fueling station at that point. We thought it was going to be commercial to meet the need from the Northwest Passage opening up and cruise ships coming in. The community was working toward possibly having a building there, too frontage for selling Arctic Bay artists goods and whatnot."

That all changed in early February when the Department of National Defence told the community the project's scope would be reduced dramatically, he said.

"Due to unique challenges stemming from the costly nature of Arctic construction, the original scope of the NNF has been reduced to ensure the project remains on budget," Department of National Defence communications advisor Mike Graham said, noting the project is one of the first DND infrastructure projects in the region. "Construction on the Arctic permafrost poses challenges unlike any other, and as such, the expertise and knowledge acquired through the construction of projects in the south of Canada cannot be applied. Cost estimates for the project were adjusted as project officers became more familiar with the site, the Arctic environment, and its unique challenges and issues."

Instead of plans for office, accommodation and industrial space, one unheated storage building will be constructed. Plans for two ice-free seasons of naval distillate fuel, the revised plan presented to the Nunavut Impact Review Board says the facility will only store one season's worth of fuel. The fuel will be used to supply the $3-billion Arctic offshore patrol ships and other Government of Canada vessels, project manager Rodney Watson said in a letter to NIRB dated Feb. 24.

"All facilities will be shut down and secured when not in use," Watson said. "On-site support will likely be reduced to an as-needed basis."

The reduced scope eases concerns about the effects on wildlife and the environment, and may actually improve the economic situation. The original project was not expected to create many jobs in Arctic Bay, Elliott said, but now the DND may require the hamlet's help in providing water and sewage services.

If the federal government is serious about investing in the High Arctic, Elliott thinks it should consider investing in improving existing, as well as creating new, infrastructure.

"I think a lot of the people in Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay and Arctic Bay like to point out to the federal government that we're here 365 days out of the year exerting Arctic sovereignty," he said. "The federal government maybe doesn't want to invest in new infrastructure, but we're always willing for them to invest to improve the infrastructure we already have, which is ageing."

Graham said the North is "central to our government's vision for Canada's future.

"We continue to fully maintain our commitment to develop the Nanisivik station to serve as a docking and refueling station for the Royal Canadian Navy and other government vessels operating in the North."

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