BY RICHARD GILBERT - The Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link (MVFL) project took another step forward as three proponents are shortlisted by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and invited to participate in the next stage of the competitive selection process.
“We need to grow and expand our economy if we are going to thrive as a territory,” said Finance Minister J. Michael Miltenberger.
“Capitalizing on Inuvik’s advantages, as an ideal location for remote satellite sensing and bringing high-speed access to communities in the Mackenzie Valley, will help NWT residents compete in today’s digital economy.”
The following three proponents have been shortlisted to respond to a Request for Proposals:
ATCO Electric Ltd.
Northern Lights Fibre
Plenary Group Canada Ltd.
The GNWT is currently preparing a Project Description Report to support an application for the project’s environmental approval.
The MVFL involves the construction and installation of about 1,115 kilometres of fibre optic cable from Checkpoint Junction in the southern Northwest Territories through Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Tulita, Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
The proposed design would use a high strength, armoured optic fibre cable that can be buried underground for the entire route.
For the Fort Good Hope to Inuvik section, the MVFL proposes to use the existing 1 km corridor that is currently under evaluation for a proposed highway extension and pipeline projects.
This construction method takes into account anticipated permafrost conditions along the proposed route and considers the potential for forest fire events.
The design will use light outside plant construction techniques to minimize environmental impacts.
Construction of the MVFL is a priority for the territorial government because the project will support economic growth and diversification, facilitate expansion of the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF) and provide improved program and service delivery in local communities.
The financial viability of the MVFL is closely linked to the long-term business prospects of the ISSF and its ability to generate revenue that will contribute to the proposed fibre system.
However, the future growth prospects for the ISSF depend on the availability of a high speed fibre optic connection.
The ISSF, which was opened in 2010, is the host site for only two satellite dishes – one each from the Swedish and German Space Agencies.
These stakeholders believe the ISSF could become a world class satellite receiving station that has the capacity to host multiple satellite dishes due to its geographic location.
The site could boost investment and economic growth to Inuvik and the region through the construction, operation and maintenance work that would be required at the facility.
However, a high-speed fibre optic link is needed to support the ISSF and their customers, who require close-to-real time transmission for their data downloads.
There are currently about 75 remote sensing satellites in polar orbits.
Within the next few decades, it is expected that an additional 300 remote sensing satellites will be launched.
However, there is a growing shortage of ground station facilities worldwide.
Canada has significant space assets and continues to invest in space borne surveillance satellites for sovereignty, biological, agricultural, land management, resource development and climate change purposes, as well as for coastal surveillance and search and rescue.
The construction of the MVFL is also expected to improve government programs and services along the Mackenzie Valley, including distance education and telehealth.
The estimated capital cost for the proposed system is between $60 million and $62 million for the full Mackenzie Valley route.
This includes the baseline system from Checkpoint Junction to Inuvik ($50.7 million), an extension to Tuktoyaktuk ($7 million) and estimated environmental permitting costs ($3 million to $5 million).
The consultants also looked at a Dempster Route alternative, from Inuvik to Carmacks, Yukon.
This route is estimated to cost about $45 million, which includes the baseline system from Carmacks to Inuvik ($36 million), an extension to Tuktoyaktuk ($7 million), and estimated environmental permitting costs ($1 million to $2 million).
However, the Dempster Route would not benefit NWT communities to the same extent that the Mackenzie Valley route option would.
The territorial government conducted their first round of public consultations for the project during the winter and spring of 2013. The second round of consultations took place in the Sahtu Region in December 2013, and both the Deh Cho and Inuvik regions in January 2014.
The current schedule would see a contract awarded during the summer of 2014 with construction starting in the winter of 2015. The project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2016.