Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit November 26, 2014 - 11:55 am

Iqaluit’s dumpcano-dousing bill comes to $2.75 million

Reserves pay off dump fire expenses; councillors question garbage-disposal financing and tools

Contractors cover Iqaluit’s expired dumpcano with sand this past Sept. 27. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Contractors cover Iqaluit’s expired dumpcano with sand this past Sept. 27. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Firefighters put out the dying remains of Iqaluit’s four-month-old dump fire, Sept. 14. The final bill to put out the fire came to no less than $2.75 million. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Firefighters put out the dying remains of Iqaluit’s four-month-old dump fire, Sept. 14. The final bill to put out the fire came to no less than $2.75 million. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

The City of Iqaluit’s bill for extinguishing its summer-long dump fire came to a full $2.75 million, administration told city council at a regular meeting, Nov. 25.

Council approved payment of the amount, as planned, when administration asked final approval to pay the full amount out of the city’s $4.4 million “unencumbered reserves” fund.

The dump-dousing expense represents about 62.44 per cent of the reserves’ balance, the city’s acting chief administrative officer, John Maberri-Mudonyi, told council.

“Most of the costs have been accounted for,” Maberri-Mudonyi said. “Worst case scenario, maybe another $100,000” may be required to cover remaining costs to equipment and unforeseen items, he added.

The city hired a team of industrial firefighters to put out the fire at the end of summer, after it had smouldered for almost four months.

Two Alberta-based contractors, Global Forensics Inc. and Hellfire Suppression Services Inc., began their assault on the pile Aug. 31, with the help of local heavy equipment operators Tower Arctic Ltd., and added fire-control equipment from the Government of Nunavut.

They put the fire out in 16 days.

The “dumpcano,” as the fire came to be known in Iqaluit, was a large football field-sized pile of garbage that flared up from within, and eventually burned throughout.

The city’s emergency services and public works departments quickly concluded that they didn’t have the resources to put out the massive blaze. They focused their efforts on containing the blaze, hoping it would burn itself out.

Concerns about air quality and health hazards from the fire smoke prompted council to order the fire department to find a solution to extinguish the blaze.

The city’s fire chief first concluded it would cost the city $2.6 million, then $3.3 million to put it out with the help of industrial firefighters.

In a motion they passed in August, council authorized the city to “allocate all financial assistance needed to try to extinguish the fire, starting immediately, independent of the final costs of the operation, in order to protect lives, property and environment.”

To do so, for a start, council instructed the city to pay the dump-dousing operation’s initial $500,000 cost out of the city’s unencumbered reserves.

The final $2.75 million bill includes that amount.

“To this day I am angered by the fact that the Government of Nunavut didn’t respond to this emergency with their financial support,” Coun. Romeyn Stevenson said on the council meeting.

Stevenson referred to a letter from the minister of community and government services, Tom Sammurtok, which advised the city to dig into its reserve funds to carry out its fire-extinguishment plan.

“It clearly implied in the letter that they had sent us, that because of our sound financial management, they were in fact penalizing us — that we were forced to spend that money rather than get help from them,” Stevenson said.

“I know that the fire was the municipality’s problem, I know that it was the responsibility of the municipality to put it out,” he continued.

“But the GN can’t say they don’t have any blame, or that they haven’t been giving adequate help (to) all the municipalities to deal with the massive problem of waste-management across the territory, and helping our municipalities with plans in dealing with regulatory bodies.”

“When I say us, I mean all communities in Nunavut,” Stevenson said.

Coun. Kenny Bell said he didn’t agree with Stevenson’s view, although he did recall officials from the territorial government and the city had some heated discussions in meetings about the dump fire.

“There were times that our city staff were walking out of meetings, and some times that GN staff were walking out of meetings, and everyone was in a huff and puff,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we did get a lot of support from them.”

Bell then pointed council’s attention back to the budget.

“I would like to see a report on exactly what’s been spent,” he said.

“I’ve heard things like they were replacing seats in some of the machines that were not ours, when we’re having staff complain that we don’t replace our own seats,” Bell said, in addition to expenses on “other random things that I don’t know are true or not.”

Earlier in the meeting, Bell called attention to some other odd facts about the city’s waste-management strategy, related to its effort to prevent the flammable mounds of garbage from piling up again.

The city’s burn box, which the public works department commissioned in September, was meant to burn wood, cardboard and paper to ash.

“Now I understand they’re putting in mattresses, couches, and a few other things,” he said. “I’d like an update on that — to explain how our approval went from wood, paper and cardboard to mattresses and other things.”

Bell also called attention to the city’s gasification unit, which the city acquired in April.

The unit breaks down household waste by heating it, and transforming most of it into gas. The federal government covered most of the $501,500 mechanism’s cost.

“It’s sitting in our warehouse,” Bell told council. “The Government of Canada’s not going to be very happy that we bought something with their money, and we’re not going to be using it for some time. So we need to move on that too.”

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