NEWS: Nunavut July 27, 2011 - 5:32 am

Cambridge Bay keeps an eye on CHARS

High tech to flow from Canadian High Arctic Research Station

JANE GEORGE

The development of small submarines to explore Arctic waters and an alternative power system that can keep Arctic communities warm without polluting the environment: these are among the high tech improvements expected to flow from Canada’s new high Arctic research station in Cambridge Bay.

The $81-million Canada High Arctic Research Station, which goes by the nickname CHARS, is set to open in Cambridge Bay in 2017.

Now at the design stage, the facility could be located on one or more of six lots around the Kitikmeot town of 1,200, as a single building or as several built as a kind of campus.

But since Prime Minister Steven Harper announced last August that CHARS would be coming to Cambridge Bay, a science and technology team has moved ahead to set five major priorities for new facility where researchers from Canada and around the world will work on developing new science and technology — such as an Arctic-adapted autonomous submersible vehicle to explore underwater.

At CHARS, they’ll also study resource development, monitor changes in the climate and look at human health in the Arctic, with a focus on mental health and food security.

“We like the menu. We can feast on it,” quipped Cambridge Bay mayor Syd Glawson about the research priorities for CHARS.

But Glawson wants to make sure his community, which he calls “the centre of my universe,” is ready for CHARS.

“We going to make sure we are,” Glawson said.

However, Glawson and the hamlet’s senior administrative officer, Steve King, say they can’t count on any money from the Government of Nunavut to prepare.

That will have to come from other sources, they said.

While it’s just a “guessestimate,” Cambridge Bay, whose population is expected to boom soon as the construction of CHARS starts, needs about $100 million to cover new infrastructure, they said.

These needs include road-paving, more fire-fighting equipment, a new municipal garage and an expanded airport.

“We have no way of raising money ourselves,” Glawson said, because the town has no tax base.

So, without any outside assistance from government, organizations and industry “we’ll be in trouble,” he said.

As part of its planning for CHARS, the hamlet also wants to see tank farm, which now lies in the centre of the growing community, to be moved further away from the town’s centre towards the airport.

As well, a new dock to accommodate the growing number of vessels, small and large, which sail through the Northwest Passage every summer, is on the hamlet’s wish-list.

But a state-of-the-art utilidor system lies at the heart of Cambridge Bay’s dream for its future as a centre for cutting-edge research and development in the Canadian Arctic.

It’s the base of an “integrated infrastructure” proposal that the hamlet is developing.

The utilidor would replace the hamlet’s present trucked system of water delivery and waste pick-up. Its new piped system would also carry power from alternative energy sources to homes and public buildings.

The utilidor plan includes a facility for gasification, a process that uses high temperatures to convert organic materials and biodegradable waste into what’s called “syngas.”

Gasification was used to produce gas for lighting and cooking in 1800s, but was later replaced by electricity and natural gas until it re-emerged during the world wars when there was a shortage of petroleum projects.

Gasification, now used mainly in industry, can reduce wastage and provide a local energy source at the same time, and it could free Cambridge Bay from using diesel fuel to run its electrical generators.

While Cambridge Bay pursues its dreams of freeing itself from polluting fossil fuels, a steering committee of local business people continue to look at other ways Cambridge Bay can gear up for CHARS.

The idea is to rally “all the forces that the community can control” and get those ready for 2017, Glawson said — such as building more housing and hotel rooms and opening a bowling alley, restaurant and a movie theatre.

Scientists are already interested in seeing the future home of CHARS for themselves.

Last week saw a group of researchers from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis St. Laurent tour Cambridge Bay as well as a visit from scientists from South Korea.