Fuelling facility build faces many hurdles in Canada’s Far North

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by Don Procter

Constructors in Canada's Far North play by a different set of rules than their counterparts in the south. Weather, terrain and remote locations present hurdles builders in Toronto or Calgary never have to face.
Fuelling facility build faces many hurdles in Canada’s Far North

A case in point is a docking and fuelling facility for the Royal Canadian Navy and the coast guard under construction in Nanisivik on Baffin Island, Nunavut, high above the Arctic Circle.

The fuel farm, which will contain 7.5 million litres in two storage tanks, is a strategic location to a sea route through the Northwest Passage.

In winter temperatures dip to -40 C. Winds off the ocean can drop the mercury another 20 to 30 C.

Winter also comes fast.

The short construction season starts in June. Temperatures can creep up to 10 C in July but by mid-September strong icy winds off the Atlantic put a halt to building.

Planning the building program a year in advance is critical, says Rodney Watson, project manager, Directorate Construction Project Delivery (DCPD) with the Department of National Defence.

"All of your construction equipment (and materials) has to be shipped in and the only time the supply ships come to port is in the middle of August," he explains.

It's why a project that might take only a year to complete in southern Canada can be spread over several years and cost three to four times more to build in the North, says Watson.

Almiq Contracting Ltd. of Iqaluit was awarded the $52.8-million federal government contract.

The fuelling station includes a wharf operators shelter, control centre and a general storage building. The existing jetty is also being refurbished.

Watson says the contractor requires a substantial inventory of materials and equipment spare parts on hand because breakdowns can result in significant construction setbacks.

In the North "contractors really have to be sharp about what spare parts they might need...what parts might be prone to breakdown."

Nanisivik is in an area classified as a polar desert — a cold, barren, rocky area with sparse vegetation. It is terrain that can wear tires quickly, says Watson, adding that a spare inventory would also include items such as engine air filters and belts.

Equally important is a team of qualified mechanics and repair technicians.

Off season, he says, heavy equipment including excavators and rock trucks are "cold soaked," meaning they are left out over winter with batteries and fluids removed.

"Part of the first two weeks of the season startup in June is getting everything going again," he says.

Watson says to keep permafrost — one to two metres below grade — from thawing, some structures are founded on a concrete base in "active soil" above the permafrost line and insulated on the underside.

Structures that are prefabricated in the south are assembled onsite on skids for mobility.

"They are really tight in terms of insulation and weather barriers...because the last thing you want is moisture to get in and cause corrosion (to controls)," he says.

Two large generator sets fuelled by diesel from above-ground tanks power the site.

The refurbished jetty, built in the 1970s, includes a new high-strength concrete surface. Armour stone, comprised of rock from a nearby quarry, will protect the jetty from stormy seas "that can hit the jetty hard," Watson says.

"The ocean completely freezes around the jetty," he points out, noting that protective "ice force panels" will be installed as part of a multi-year study in partnership with the National Research Council to measure the forces of ice on the jetty.

During peak construction this summer, the site will have about 60 workers.

The facility will open next summer but work is expected to be completed before this construction season ends. Fuel tanks, pipes and valves will be tested for leaks and all equipment will be assessed to ensure fail-safes are working, says Watson.

The project's design consultant is Advisian, a global advisory services business of Vancouver's WorleyParsons.

In the 1970s the federal government built a port at the site that served a lead/zinc mine company and the hamlet of Nanisivik was formed. The mine and hamlet have since been abandoned and the nearest population is Arctic Bay, a community of less than 1,000 people 35 kilometres away.

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