August 17, 2007

It’s official: Nanisivik new port site

Resolute Bay to get new Arctic military training centre

CHRIS WINDEYER

Ending more than a year of speculation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Aug. 10 that Nanisivik will be home to a deep-water port, while Resolute Bay will be the site of a new Arctic military training centre.

Harper capped a whirlwind tour of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories with quick stops in Resolute Bay and Nanisivik. He also announced plans to re-equip and expand the Canadian Rangers from 4,100 to 5,000 personnel.

"Taken together, the creation of the Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre, the expansion and modernization of the Canadian Rangers and the development of Port Nanisivik will significantly strengthen Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic," Harper said during a stop in Resolute Bay. "These initiatives will also benefit communities throughout the region by creating jobs and opportunities and enhancing the safety and security of the people who live here."

The total cost of last week's announcements adds up to $584 million over 20 years.

A government backgrounder put the cost of upgrading the existing dock at Nanisivik at $100 million. Construction would begin in 2010, with the site fully operational by 2015.

"With its sheltered harbour, nearby jet-capable airstrip, and proximity to the Northwest Passage, Nanisivik offers an ideal location for the docking and refuelling facility," the backgrounder states.

Hugo Clement, owner of Volco Northern Terminal Inc., the company that operates the 14-million-litre fuel tank farm at Nanisivik wondered if the government even needs to spend $100 million to upgrade the port.

"They can use it as is," he said, though he added he's unfamiliar with the military's exact plans for the site.

"[But] that's a very economic decision for the government to use that place," Clement said.

The decision to use Nanisivik as the port location is a blow for Iqaluit, which lobbied for years to be the home for a deep-water port. The city had even gone as far as to commission a consultant's report pegging the cost of building a single-berth dock in the capital at under $50 million.

The Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay will serve as a training base and staging area for southern military and Canadian Rangers. It also gives the forces the ability to conduct patrols in the High Arctic year-round.

With a start-up cost of $4 million, the centre will cost about $2 million per year to run. Twelve military staff, two based in Resolute Bay, will run the centre, which will have capacity for 100 personnel at peak use.

Susan Salluviniq, mayor of Resolute Bay, skipped the prime minister's announcement because of a prior engagement, but said the training centre is good news for her hamlet of 300 people. Salluviniq said she's not worried about her community being swamped by soldiers when the centre is fully staffed.

"We get a lot of tourists here," she said. "It shouldn't have such a big impact for this community."

Ottawa also plans to spend $45 million to add 900 Canadian Rangers and upgrade their weapons and uniforms. Many Rangers currently use Lee-Enfield rifles, which have been in production since 1907.

The government backgrounder also said the Rangers will also see an "enhancement of transportation capabilities," though it didn't provide any further details.

Harper's announcement came just weeks after Russia planted a flag on the ocean floor under the North Pole, kicking off what some are calling a land rush to claim sovereignty over the Arctic Ocean. U.S. officials speculate as much as 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves lie under the Arctic.

Russia claims more than half of the Arctic Ocean as an undersea extension of its territory, though Canada, Denmark and the United States dispute this.

But the Reuters news agency reported last week that Russia pledges to observe international law. Russia must make its submission to the United Nations agency governing the Law of the Sea Convention by the end of 2007.