North Labrador coast residents left waiting for supplies

Boat couldn’t pick up freight in Lewisporte

Derek Montague
Published on July 3, 2014
Since the Astron couldn’t deliver freight to the north coast from Lewisporte, the ship picked up a load from Happy Valley-Goose Bay on July 3. — Photo by Derek Montague/The Labradorian

Jim Lyall, the manager of Labrador Investments Ltd. in Nain, was expecting to have a shipment of groceries arrive for his store this week from Lewisporte

His freight, which was supposed to be aboard the Astron on July 1, contained canned goods, juice, sugar and other non-perishable items.

But the Astron was unable to load its freight, which contains various supplies for Labrador’s north coast, because there was no room for it to dock. Now, Lyall and other residents of Labrador’s north coast have to deal with the consequences.

“There have been a few complaints … ‘How come you don’t have this? How come you don’t have that?’

“Sometimes I feel like I’m getting the brunt of it when it’s not my fault,” said Lyall.

“We’ve got it on order, it’s ready in Lewisporte to come up, and people get kind of angry when they can’t get what they want from the store.

“Unfortunately, we go through this about every year. Our things are delayed and held up and screwed up, boats break down and that sort of thing. It’s almost become the norm.”

In Hopedale, residents have been frustrated at the low level of food and supplies for several months. Wayne Piercy, the town’s AngajukKak (mayor) with the Hopedale Inuit Community Government, said the paltry amount of grocery items has been apparent since Easter.

“The supplies in town right now are the worst it’s ever been … from the produce right up to the frozen,” said Piercy.

“There’s hardly any dish liquid here, laundry detergent, everything from A to Z,” Piercy said.

Fresh food, like fruits and vegetables, are flown in regularly to the coastal communities. But according to Piercy, the quantities are too small for the demand.

“As soon as we hear there’s a freight plane coming, everybody takes off,” said Piercy.

“The fruits and vegetables that comes in only lasts for maybe 15 to 20 minutes.”

Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath, who’s also the minister responsible for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, said the there was no room for the Astron because the Northern Ranger and the Sir Robert Bond were taking up the two berths.

The Sir Robert Bond is not in service and doesn’t have a crew. The Northern Ranger was being worked on when its two life-rafts didn’t pass inspection. New rafts were ordered, but one was damaged while it was being delivered.

“Originally, the Northern Ranger was scheduled to be left dock before the Astron got in. So there would have been no need to move the Bond then,” said McGrath.

“By Transport Canada regulations, the Northern Ranger cannot leave dockside, you can’t even anchor her off of dock without all the life-preserving infrastructure in place.”

Since the Northern Ranger couldn’t legally be moved from its berth, McGrath and his department tried to get a crew together to move the Bond. But according to the minister, it was impossible to do on such short notice.

“In order to move the Bond … you have to get a crew together and it’s a very specialized crew. … So to pull that crew together for the Bond could take several days.”

Since there was no way to get freight in Lewisporte, the Astron was sent to port in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on July 3, where 40 containers, along with a load of vehicles and heavy equipment, were waiting to be shipped to the north coast.

A spokesperson for Nunatsiavut Marine, the company that operates the Astron, said it plans on having the freight in Lewisporte shipped between July 12-13.

Storeowners aren’t the only ones feeling pressure from the missing shipment of goods. The Nain Inuit Community Government is planning to do renovations and repairs to its aging town office this summer, but the building supplies are waiting in Lewisporte to be shipped.

Nain AngajukKak Tony Andersen is worried about the time that will be wasted due to the shipping delay.

“We have a local contractor ready to go. We’ve purchased the materials from Newfoundland, so they were at the dock in Lewisporte. We had hoped they would have been on the first Astron the other day,” said Andersen.

“We were expecting to get our materials early because he has more work coming down the pipes, so to speak, and it could cause some problems for him.”

The construction season is short in northern Labrador and the renovations need to be done as soon as possible. The Nain Inuit Community Government will move temporarily into the community’s school when renovations start. It will have to be out by September in time for the school year to start.

“The renovations to our office are important and we want to get them early as possible, because our whole staff is going to have to move into the school,” said Andersen. “We still have to operate the town. We still have the town to run.”

Elected officials in the north coast region have expressed frustration and anger over the Astron situation. Speaker for the Nunatsiavut Government, Sean Lyall, who is also the member for Nain, said there’s no reason why the port in Lewisporte wasn’t ready for the Astron.

“It’s the first trip of the season and we haven’t had a freight ship since last year,” said Lyall.

“It’s astounding because they knew freight season was approaching, and they had six months to prepare for this and the first ship can’t load because the Bond is in the way.”

Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds believes there were options available to make room for the Astron in Lewisporte.

“They could have towed the Bond away,” said Edmunds. “It’s not a very big distance to move her. There was a crew on the Astron. They could’ve moved her.”

Edmunds claims shipping delays like this force people along the north coast of Labrador to live with substandard services compared to others in the province.

“The issue is, people are not going to starve, they’ll make sure of that, but they just don’t have a lot of the necessities that other people take for granted,” said Edmunds.

“Why should we have to live substandard? Why can’t we have what everyone else in the province got?”