Committee to ponder what to do about melting permafrost

Climate change forces talk of Salluit relocation


KUUJJUAQ – The relocation of Salluit isn't something that Johnny Papigatok, the mayor of Salluit, is ready to talk about.

And Adamie Papigatuk, a regional councillor with the Kativik Regional Government, calls the possibility of his community's relocation to another site "unthinkable."

But that's one option that a new committee, with members from Quebec, the KRG and Salluit, will look at.

They have a two-year mandate to study the future of Salluit, where frozen ground is turning into mud due to a warmer climate.

The committee will manage the short-term development of the growing community of 1,200, to prevent more damage from occurring, then make a plan for the future and monitor the permafrost to see how fast it's melting.

The goal is to fund a "technically and financially feasible solution" that will meet the needs of Salluit, officials from Quebec's municipal affairs department said at last week's KRG council meeting in Kuujjuaq.

One option is to adapt the community to climate change by making more use of the existing site and looking for building areas.

Another option is to develop a new neighbourhood to the west or east.

And a "final option" could involve complete relocation of the community.

After pre-feasibility studies and cost estimates, the committee will give its recommendations to the Northern Village of Salluit, the KRG and Quebec.

Studies show that in Salluit the average temperature of the permafrost has risen one degree Celsius since 1988, while average air temperatures have undergone rapid heating since 1992.

In the future, Salluit could see landslides or slippages, similar to the one that occurred there in 1998.

This destabilized a neighbourhood of 20 new houses. Moving the houses to new locations cost Quebec hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 2006, Salluit's fire station had to be taken down and moved after its foundation cracked.

The Quebec transport department has also been looking at how to fix permafrost damage and avoid future problems on Salluit's airport access roads and runway, which are buckling and splitting as permafrost melts under ever-warmer temperatures.

A team from Laval university's Centre des études nordiques will start research in Salluit next month and continue its monitoring activities through 2009.

Also in the works is a "best practices" guide for building and road construction as well as for municipal operations that may be affected throughout Nunavik by permafrost thawing.

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