Iqaluit in 2014: Year of dumpcano opened with a weather bomb

Nunavut capital clears turbulent year, with lessons learned


Iqaluit's summer-long dump fire stopped smouldering in September, after an industrial fire company from Alberta, contracted by the City of Iqaluit, helped put it out. (FILE PHOTO)

Iqaluit’s summer-long dump fire stopped smouldering in September, after an industrial fire company from Alberta, contracted by the City of Iqaluit, helped put it out. (FILE PHOTO)

Iqaluit residents at a public meeting held Oct. 7 to talk about a beer and wine store that the Nunavut government is proposing for Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Iqaluit residents at a public meeting held Oct. 7 to talk about a beer and wine store that the Nunavut government is proposing for Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

During the first week of 2014, a storm brought winds exceeding 140 km/h that knocked out electrical power for up to 17 hours and damaged buildings throughout Iqaluit. (FILE PHOTO)

During the first week of 2014, a storm brought winds exceeding 140 km/h that knocked out electrical power for up to 17 hours and damaged buildings throughout Iqaluit. (FILE PHOTO)

The year began in Iqaluit with a sharp blast of stormy weather Jan. 7 when a ruthless but brief blizzard some referred to as a “weather bomb” brought on winds up to 141 kilometres an hour.

The city was in for more turbulent times in the year that followed, but they were caused by humans, not nature.

In that first month, city council and administration’s deliberations on the 2014 budget blew up into a drawn-out series of meetings riddled with disagreements over spending requests by city officials and proposed tax increases to pay for them.

Meetings stretched until March, when the budget finally passed after two complete re-writes. City administrators vowed to never let the same drawn-out deliberation happen again, and agreed to work out spending priorities for 2015 before the end of the year.

But there’s no doubt about the year’s biggest story: dumpcano.

Public works called the fire department on May 20 to tackle a fire at the Iqaluit dump, which had long since passed its expiry date. The fourth flare-up in six months was not easily contained, and proved to be beyond city’s means to extinguish.

Dumpcano got its ownTwitter account, its own T-shirt and inspired a dance performance. City officials eventually called in industrial firefighters from Alberta, who doused the dump fire in September. Final price tag: $2.8 million.

The city lost two leaders during those combustible months. Iqaluit’s popular mayor, John Graham, resigned while on vacation in Scotland, and chief administrative John Hussey got the boot from council in the fall.

Council gave no reasons for firing the CAO, and Graham said he quit for personal reasons.


• The winter’s most powerful blizzard hit Iqaluit Jan. 7. Winds peaked at 141 kilometres an hour. By early afternoon in Nunavut’s capital, the Qulliq Energy Corp. was working to restore power to a number of Iqaluit neighbourhoods while power lines shook in the wind and debris from homes and other structures blew through city streets. Iqalungmiut woke up Jan. 8 to see downed power lines, debris and giant snow drifts.

• Near the end of its fourth day of a line-by-line review of the city’s proposed budget for 2014, Iqaluit city councillors stopped dead in their tracks when they reached the bottom line: a proposed $3 mill rate increase on all property taxes. They turned the budget back to city administration with a list of expenses to cut in an effort to bring the mill rate down to $1.

• The Qikiqtani Inuit Association announced it is working out plans to develop 16.2 hectares of property along a one-kilometre stretch of Federal Rd. between the city centre and the North 40 area.

• France-based aircraft manufacturer Airbus tested their newest passenger jetliner, the A350-900, Jan. 24 to Jan. 26. The test crew cut short their intended five-day visit after they accomplished their mission in two days, and temperatures hit an unseasonably warm -18 C.

• Iqaluit will get its new waste site, complete with a garbage incinerator, within the next two years. Council insisted on adding an incinerator to the engineering department’s proposed new waste site, which brings the set-up cost of the new waste site up to an estimated $13.98 million from the $9.08 originally proposed.


• Iqaluit city council’s finance committee of the whole agreed Feb. 4 on a final draft of the city’s 2014 budget. On the sixth day of budget discussions, which began Jan. 9, council settled on a mill rate increase of 1.5 on all property tax categories, exactly half of what the city’s administration originally proposed.

• Iqaluit city council’s promise to review this year’s budget line by line held firm Feb. 11, when members refused to pass it without double-checking all the changes they ordered. City administrators put the final draft of the 2014 budget on councillors’ desks just in time for council’s second regular meeting of the month. But most members wanted to hold off on passing the thick document, after Coun. Kenny Bell said he didn’t recognize some changes.

• The raising of a rainbow flag alongside the Canadian, City of Iqaluit and Nunavut flags at Iqaluit city hall Feb. 10 did not have the approval of all Iqaluit residents, according to city councillor Simon Nattaq. The city raised the multicoloured flag, which represents gay pride, equality and inclusiveness, at the request of Coun. Kenny Bell. Major cities throughout Canada, including northern Canada’s two other territorial capitals, Yellowknife and Whitehorse, have raised it to protest anti-gay laws in Russia, where the winter Olympic Games were underway.

• The City of Iqaluit’s Sustainable Community Plan got top marks nationally Feb. 12, when it won an award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

• The Inuit Broadcasting Corp. unveiled exterior designs for its long-awaited media arts centre in Iqaluit Feb. 24. Officially called the Nunavut Media Arts Centre, the facility will become the new home of the IBC in 2015.

• Coun. Romeyn Stevenson, who led budget deliberations as chair of the city’s finance committee of the whole, resigned as committee chair Feb. 25 after Iqaluit city councillors rejected the latest version of the document.


• Canadian Forces’ exercise “Guerrier Nordique” went into motion March 3, when 165 reserve soldiers left Iqaluit for air, snowmobile, ski and foot patrols around the city. Quebec City-based reservists of the 35 Brigade Group brought Guerrier Nordique to Nunavut this year for the first time in its five-year history. Iqaluit-based 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group and 15 members of United States Army National Guard were also involved in the exercise.

• The City of Iqaluit finally passed its 2014 budget, March 11, after some 35 hours of deliberation by city council — including two rounds of re-negotiation and rewrites to a document first proposed by city administration on Jan. 9. Residents will see taxes on all properties in Iqaluit rise by $1 on each $1,000 valuation.

• The City of Iqaluit will borrow $34 million to pay for the construction of its new Aquatic Centre. Council approved a $26.5 million long-term debenture loan from Canada Life Assurance Inc., March 11. A second loan of $7.5 million will cover the remainder of the $34 million project cost. The city said this will come from a “secondary source.”

• A city-wide search for Benjamin Palluq sparked concern among some city councillors, who suggested March 27 that the city does little to help homeless Iqalummiut who suffer from poor health. The RCMP, in collaboration with Nunavut Search and Rescue, the City of Iqaluit and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association led a community-wide effort to find Palluq, who was homeless. The 44-year-old homeless Iqaluit man had been missing since the first week of March.

• Firefighters doused a fire at Iqaluit’s overflowing dump, March 27. Crews put out 150 square metres of burning debris. A smaller fire, covering almost 40 square metres in the same pile, had fire crews scrambling last December.

• More than 30 Iqaluit residents demonstrated support for the seal hunt and seal products by posing for a “sealfie” in front of the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. monument in Iqaluit, March 27. This was their answer to celebrity talk show host Ellen Degeneres’s “selfie,” which featured 12 movie stars and earned $1.5 million for the U.S. Humane Society, a major opponent of the seal industry.


• The city got hold of a $501,500 gasification system that reduces household waste to “eight per cent of its total volume,” thanks to $350,000 in funding from CanNor. The equipment is part of a pilot project to convert household waste into energy.

• The Anglican Diocese of the Arctic offered to pay $2.65 million to Alvarez and Marsal Canada Inc., receivers for the now defunct Dowland group of companies, for the bulk of a debt owed from the rebuilding of St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit.

• The City of Iqaluit celebrated the start of construction on the city’s aquatic centre with a groundbreaking ceremony April 16, as work crews installed the first pile for the new facility’s foundation.

• Iqaluit city councillor Kenny Bell resigned from his chairmanships on five city committees at an April 22 meeting, after stating he was fed up about administration’s failure to respond to councillors’ requests.


• Olympic cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes stopped by Iqaluit May 1 on day 49 of her 110-day cycling trip across Canada. Her journey, called “Clara’s Big Ride” for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign is aimed at raising public awareness of mental health issues.

• Councillors and administrators agreed that deliberations over the 2014 budget were too long. To avoid such delays in the future, the city’s director of corporate services recommended council draft the next budget before the end of the calendar year.

• The fire department tells council it cannot put out a “deep-seated” fire in a large pile at the city dump, May 20. Fire chief Luc Grandmaison said the pile “is like a volcano.” With council’s approval May 20, the chief and the city’s superintendent of public works, Joe Brown, concluded they should let the fire burn itself out, after attempts to douse the blaze with more than 64,000 litres of water failed to show results.

• Iqaluit’s director of public works, Keith Couture, said the poor construction of long stretches of road and sewer lines are starting to show up — and that Iqaluit shouldn’t settle for anything less than complete replacement. The top items on Couture’s list include collapsing sewage lines in the Happy Valley neighbourhood and the crumbling Apex Road.

• Iqaluit’s water license expired two years ago, but administration told council it is working with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to bring its wastewater treatment system in line with regulations.


• Aqsarniit Middle School and Nanook Elementary School kept their doors closed June 6 because of smoke from the dump fire — which blew largely out of the northwest and onto their school grounds. Nunavut’s department of health warned that westerly winds “may bring dump fire smoke over parts of the city.”

• Environment Canada’s first set of Iqaluit air quality readings around the dump fire showed that hazards from smoke and hazardous chemicals drop to normal levels at about 70 metres from the fire The agency’s staff found some isolated high-level “smoke spikes,” or bodies of air containing high concentrations of contaminants from smoke, one to five km away from the dump.

• Iqaluit City Council reversed a previous decision to let Iqaluit’s landfill fire burn itself out and ordered the fire department to extinguish the smoking heap of garbage, June 11. Council gave the order by way of a motion instructing fire chief Luc Grandmaison “to put the fire out in a way that he sees fit,” with help from experts who specialize in dump fires and the Government of Nunavut, “and to do so as soon as possible.”

• John Graham, who had yet to return from a long trip to his native Scotland, quit his position as mayor of Iqaluit by way of a letter to council, June 24. Graham made the decision for “personal reasons,” said deputy mayor Mary Wilman, who had served as acting mayor since early May.

• Fred Penner, the man behind memorable kids songs and the star of the longtime Fred Penner’s Place, thrilled children and young-at-heart adults at Iqaluit’s Alianait festival.

• Iqaluit owns one of the worst landfill sites in North America, according to Dr. Tony Sperling, a $350-an-hour expert the City of Iqaluit hired to help them come up with a solution to the smoldering dump fire. The landfill designer recommended a “controlled overhaul” method to put out the fire – to dunk the smoldering dump fire, lump by lump, into a pool.


• The 10th anniversary of the Alianait Arts Festival featured the Igloolik-based acrobatic troupe Artcirq, a debut performance by the Greenlandic group Akukittut, and the usual mix of Canadian and international talent on the same stage.

• Heavy equipment operators started work on a portion of the Government of Nunavut’s massive new Iqaluit airport project. Arctic Infrastructure Partners signed a deal with the Government of Nunavut to build and run the $300 million airport in a 30-year public-private partnership. The “net present cost” of the project over 30 years, taking factors like inflation into account, is actually $418.9 million, the GN said.

• Data on air quality in Iqaluit showed that while fine particulate matter in the air, as a result of the burning dump, remained low, the levels of dioxins and furans exceeded Ontario health standards. A July 18 news release from the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Health said “while long-term exposure to high levels of dioxins is known to increase cancer risk, the levels of dioxins observed in Iqaluit are far below the health standard for cancer.”

• Iqaluit will host Nunavut’s first mosque, with a little help from an Islamic charity that brought the country’s most northerly mosque to the Northwest Territories four years ago. The two-storey, 3,700-square-foot facility will go up in a quiet area between the Road to Nowhere and Lake Subdivision neighbourhoods.


• The GN told the City of Iqaluit that won’t pay any of the estimated $2.4 million required to extinguish Iqaluit’s intractable dump fire, because the city’s financial statements show they’re sitting on $11.6 million in reserve funds. In a letter to the mayor, Aug. 1, the government pointed out the city has $7.5 million in unrestricted reserves, meaning they can be used for any purpose.

• Smoke from Iqaluit’s dump fire carried pollutants hazardous to health, but not at levels nearly high enough to cause a public health emergency, according to Nunavut’s health department.

• The Nunavut Stars Hockey Camp forged ahead with its 11th season in Iqaluit, thanks to an overwhelming response from donors to cover an unexpected gap in funding. The hockey camp, which ran Aug. 10 to Aug. 14, faced a major hurdle in mid-July when two recurring grants — one from the federal government and another from the Iqaluit Amateur Hockey Association — didn’t come through.

• The City of Iqaluit took its first step towards covering costs needed to douse the smouldering dump fire, Aug. 6, when city council identified $2 million of municipal funds to cover part of a fire-extinguishing plan. Contrary to what the GN claimed in a public letter sent to the city, Aug. 1, Iqaluit doesn’t have $7.5 million of “unrestricted reserves,” free to use in an extinguishing plan, city administrators said.

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen joined in a ball hockey game at Nakasuk School in Iqaluit, Aug. 25, at the afternoon event put on by Canadian Tire Corp., which promoted sports and recreation at schools in Nunavut. Olympic gold medalists Hayley Wickenheiser, Charles Hamelin and Kaillie Humphries spoke to kids about the value of sports. The prime minister dropped in during the Iqaluit leg of his week-long tour of northern Canada.

• Iqaluit’s escalating volumes of vehicle traffic drew words of warning at a city council meeting Aug. 26. “According to recent news reports, there are 5,500 vehicles in Iqaluit,” Iqaluit resident Janet Armstrong told council in a brief citizen’s presentation. “Approximately 300 new vehicles are added each year. For 23 kilometres? Does no one walk? Does no one ride a bicycle?” she said, pointing to the community’s limited road network.

• Plans to extinguish Iqaluit’s summer-long dump fire finally came together Aug. 31, when a team of industrial firefighters began their assault on the 10-metre-high smoking mass of garbage. The city recently called on the services of Alberta-based Global Forensics Inc. to join another Alberta-based contractor, Hellfire Suppression Services, to put out a fire that was beyond the city’s means to extinguish.

• If residents agree, Iqaluit could host the territory’s only beer and wine store next summer. Some 95 Iqalungmiut showed their support for the idea by way of a petition they sent to the territorial government in July. With city council’s approval last month, the territorial government got set to hold public consultations on the question in October.


• Nunavut’s long list of social, environmental and infrastructure woes call for a lot more attention than Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has given over the past eight years, New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair said Sept 2 in Iqaluit. Iqaluit residents presented that long list to Mulcair in a continuous stream of questions at a town hall meeting at the city’s francophone centre. More than 70 curious voters and supporters packed the centre to hear what Mulcair’s party would do differently.

• Iqaluit city council fired the city’s chief administrative officer, John Hussey, Sept. 15. Hussey’s service with the city ended Sept. 12, after council voted to end his employment. Hussey has served in the city’s top administrative position since November 2007, when council voted to hire him as full-time CAO.

• Industrial firefighters stamped out the last remnants of Iqaluit’s dump fire, Sept. 16, just 17 days into their campaign to extinguish the football-field-sized mound that has burned since May 20. Site manager Mike Noblett of Global Forensics Inc., contracted to run the city’s dump-extinguishing operation, reported that smoke had practically stopped emerging from the site on Sept. 15.

• The City of Iqaluit stitched up the last portion of financing for the city’s $40-million aquatic centre Sept. 23, when councillors approved a loan and grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. A loan of $7.5 million loan topped up a total $34 in loans needed to cover construction costs.

• First Air laid off nine employees at its cargo facility in Iqaluit, to be replaced by seven new positions for residents of the city. The layoffs took effect Nov. 1, part of a move to phase out rotational staff who do not live in Iqaluit.


• Rev. Mike Gardener of St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit blessed Iqaluit’s new municipal cemetery in Apex at a brief opening ceremony Oct. 5. Located at the southern edge of Apex, the cemetery’s 3.4-hectare windswept expanse overlooks Tarr Inlet and Frobisher Bay, and replaces Iqaluit’s half-century-old graveyard in lower Iqaluit.

• Iqaluit residents packed a conference hall at the Frobisher Inn to capacity, Oct. 7, to have their say on the territorial government’s proposal for a beer and wine store in the city. Most residents spoke out against the proposal, blaming alcohol consumption for many social ills.

• The Legislative Assembly of Nunavut and other institutions in the city lowered their flags to half-mast to honour Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist who was standing on guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Oct. 22 when he was shot by a gunman.

• Iqaluit City Council took a first step to increase the basic taxi fare to $7 per ride, Oct. 28. The $1 increase could take hold as early as December, after it passes three readings in council. Fares for seniors and children under 10 will not change, councillors said.


• Iqaluit residents flocked to Nakasuk School, Nov. 8, to pick up some products from the last harvests of the fall season in southern Canada. Some 300 shoppers bought up 1,400 kilograms of fruits and vegetables, as well as cheeses, bread, bagels and a few specialty items shipped directly from western Quebec and eastern Ontario, most of it sold at prices lower than local supermarkets.

• Mary Wilman assumed the title of mayor of Iqaluit, Nov. 25, after having served more than six months as acting mayor. Wilman succeeded John Graham as the top elected official at the city five months after the former mayor resigned by way of a letter sent June 24, from Scotland, where he spent part of his summer.

• 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.

• City council approved a contract to build the main structure of city’s aquatic centre to Kudlik Construction, Nov. 25. Kudlik’s stage of the work, amounting to $30 million, will get underway in 2015. The centre’s total “forecast cost at completion” is expected to be about $40.7 million, according to project managers.


• The Iqaluit Icemen won the inaugural Qaqsauq Cup in Iqaluit, Dec.7. The northern hockey tournament honours the memory of eight Iqaluit men who drowned in Frobisher Bay in 1994 when their vessel Qaqsauq overturned in a storm. Pitseolak Alainga, one of two survivors of the disaster, presented the trophy to the winners.

• Iqaluit’s taxi fares will soon increase to $7 — but not before the city clearly spells out when cabbies can charge $10, and extra fees for animals and baggage. City council agreed in principal Dec. 9 to increase the standard fare from $6, which has not changed since 2007.

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