I’m using my first few Members’ statements of this assembly to inform the other members and the people of the NWT about the major issues affecting Hay River. I know the returning members are aware of this particular issue, because my predecessor made countless statements on it. I’m speaking of the build-up of sediments in the Port of Hay River which has reached a crisis level.

The federal government used to dredge the waterways around Hay River and at points on the Mackenzie River. That program ended in the early 1990s and virtually nothing has been done since. The result is that tugs are dragging barges through silt, boats are being damaged, and veteran commercial fishermen aren’t willing to go out on the water because it’s unsafe. I’m aware that dredging is the federal government’s responsibility. That was the answer my predecessor received over and over again when he tried to spur this government into action. Regardless of whose responsibility it is, it’s our problem and we have to do something about it.

Safe marine operating conditions are vital to maintaining and growing the South Slave economy. The Port of Hay River is the largest inland port in Western Canada. It is home to a Canadian Coast Guard base, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans office, and NTCL’s operations headquarters. It’s the heart of the NWT’s fishing industry. The port is the reason that the Town of Hay River exists, so it’s shocking that we’ve let its condition deteriorate to this level.

The proposed mandated contains a bold vision for the NWT’s fishing industry. The problem is that if the fishermen can’t get to the fish because the port is too shallow and unsafe, then we don’t have an industry. It’s as simple as that. Hay River has a burgeoning tourist industry with amazing potential. With our southern proximity and access the town could be a destination for recreational boaters and sport fishers, and, in fact, there are entrepreneurs making investments in that market right now. Without action on dredging, that opportunity is lost.

The viability of our shipping industry and the cost of goods up the Mackenzie are also directly and negatively affected by our lack of action. This problem has consequences beyond Hay River. Finally, as each year passes and the sediment builds up, the risk of flooding grows greater. We’ve been lucky recently, but the flooding in 2009 is a reminder that our luck won’t last forever.

From what I can tell, the previous government did little more than encourage the federal government to dredge, which seems to have gotten us nowhere. I hope this government will be more proactive. I will be working towards finding solutions, so hopefully together we can fix this problem once and for all.