Iqaluit has had no director of public works for 15 months

City leaders say vacancy had no effect on response to water crisis

After government officials in Iqaluit have confirmed fuel in the city’s water supply, the million-dollar question is why did it take so long to warn the public? (File photo)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The City of Iqaluit has had no director of public works for the past 15 months, but municipal leaders say this vacancy did not affect how the city responded to reports of fuel odours coming from its water supply.

The city first heard complaints about the tap water on Oct. 2.

At first, officials insisted the water was passing all municipal tests and was safe to drink. On Oct. 12, a worker opened a sealed tank at the water treatment plant and noticed a strong fuel odour coming from it.

Government officials later that day put out an advisory to not consume any of the city’s treated tap water because it was suspected to be contaminated by some sort of petroleum product.

City leaders announced Oct. 15 that results from a southern lab confirmed the city’s water is contaminated with fuel, likely diesel or kerosene.

Amy Elgersma, the city’s chief administrative officer, has been overseeing work done in the public works department since the director position was left vacant, said Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell.

She’s taken on the extra responsibilities with the help of water superintendent Shane Turner and general operations superintendent Joe Brown.

The investigation, which began Oct. 2, was led by Elgersma and the Government of Nunavut.

Bell blames the prolonged vacancy of the director role for the public works department on city’s housing crisis.

“It’s impossible to hire. We have no housing,” he said. “It’s a huge issue for governments, for everybody.”

When asked whether not having a director of public works had any effect on how the city responded to the water complaints, Bell said: “No, I don’t think so.”

Elgersma said it’s challenging to be short-staffed but: “I wouldn’t say it affected the investigation, we were able to bring experts in right away.”

The GN got involved in the investigation on Oct. 3, a day after the city was first notified of the issue, said Chris Puglia, a spokesperson for the Health Department.

Elgersma said some of her responsibilities were choosing water testing sites, hiring experts to help with the investigation and ensuring inspections were complete.

When asked why an underground tank found to be the source of the contamination was not checked earlier, Elgersma said it wasn’t considered a priority.

“It wasn’t something that we looked at as being a high-risk situation at the time. There were other areas that we were working on as part of the investigation, such as the above ground pipes,” she said.

City spokesperson Geoff Byrne said Turner and Brown were not available for interviews.

This week, the city is flushing city pipes and inspecting the tank where the source of the fuel contamination was detected. City officials say there will also be a site inspection around the water treatment plant, which is located next to a diesel power plant, for fuel contamination.

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by Eskimo on

    The water treatment plant by the power plant building had a fuel spill about 4 years ago, maybe it was not cleaned properly. Or they had another fuel spill that they didn’t Report?

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  2. Posted by Uvanga on

    GN Human Resources needs to get their processes sorted. So much room for improvement and nothing being done. Housing Corporation needs to figure out a way to fill vacant houses. So many units vacant and so many vacancies! Where are the politicians? Why is GN HR and housing such a farce?! Come on! We need better and faster HR processes in line with housing. Who are those responsible for hiring? Why are they so hard to work with?

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  3. Posted by Colin on

    “ City leaders say vacancy had no effect on response to water crisis” that’s true, but the leaders had a effect to the slow response, it seemed like it was a joke to them and it wasn’t taken very seriously.
    This fuel has to come into the system somehow, maybe it’s time for the GN to step in and find out where and how it’s coming into the water system and replace those lines.

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  4. Posted by City at Fault for Housing and Staff Shortages on

    At the end of the day the City seems to be negligent in not inspecting its systems properly. I don’t expect the CAO to be an expert on public works, however I expect them to be able to assemble a team. 15month vacancy in this role is unacceptable. Why did the city not get staff units in its new City Hall lease? Why is the city not developing lots for families to build and get out of staff, private or public housing? This council trying to blame climate change, while it may be a factor, its really a water department running short staffed and burning out due to the inability to hire or retain talent at the City. Council should be investigating why they cant retain staff.

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  5. Posted by pissed off on

    One dept has a housing surplus but keeps it from other departments to cover their behind“ IN CASE“
    What a joke!!!!!!

    They should all have the available housing in a POOL that could be tapped as needed.
    Stop operating in silos and cooperate for the betterment of the whole community for God`s sake.

    Thasnks

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  6. Posted by not even on

    Elgersma said it’s challenging to be short-staffed but: “I wouldn’t say it affected the investigation, we were able to bring experts in right away.”

    Define “right away”. The problem was reported as early as October 2.

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  7. Posted by not even on

    “City spokesperson Geoff Byrne said Turner and Brown were not available for interviews.”

    Isn’t that literally their jobs?

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  8. Posted by no question on

    “Elgersma said some of her responsibilities were choosing water testing sites, hiring experts to help with the investigation and ensuring inspections were complete.”
    “When asked why an underground tank found to be the source of the contamination was not checked earlier, Elgersma said it wasn’t considered a priority.”
    “It wasn’t something that we looked at as being a high-risk situation at the time. There were other areas that we were working on as part of the investigation, such as the above ground pipes,” she said.

    I just read Amy Elgersama’s professional bio, and nothing in it indicates she is qualified to look after public works. This job usually requires a background in engineering or civil engineering…something different than an MBA. Yet somehow, she’s been looking after her CAO position and acting as director of public works and doing both effectively for over a year? That doesn’t seem quite right.

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    • Posted by Holding it all together on

      If any of you armchair experts knew anything about how the been operating for the past few years, you’d know that Elgersma’s basically been holding the place together. I’m personally thankful it’s her at the helm and not any of the past duds we’ve been stuck with.

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      • Posted by Army exy on

        That doesn’t mean it’s okay the she’s been holding down two positions, one of which she is not qualified to do. It is how things are done way too often around here. No one is saying she is an idiot or lazy or criminal. She is calling shots she isn’t qualified to make and her time and energies are divided between two high profile jobs. It is a recipe for disaster.

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      • Posted by Joe Binn on

        HOLDING IT TOGETHER, you are definitely part of the SAO sidekicks. The gross incompetence and negligence go from top-down at the city, and everybody knows it. Starting at the pool and the recreation department! The city council is a farce and a big joke. LIES, LIES, LIES…. The City Management is not even smart enough to put out an appropriate PSA for the public’s safety! 15 months to hire an engineer with the proper experience and qualification to run the public works department in the city is more than negligent it’s gross incompetence. I’m pretty sure that the water plan in Iqaluit requires a certified operator. Who are the certified operators these days? Has anyone asked the question to the City Council and the Mayor? I’m pretty sure the SAO and the Mayor are not certified operators of this plant. Oh, BTW where are our GN officials? Nobody is checking if the City is complying with all the safety and health rules? It’s about time that we, the resident of Iqaluit, request that our elected official pass a competence test before being eligible for election! This is prosperous and ridiculous that the city council vote themself pay increase and that they are allowed to bypass rules and bylaws and let flagrant negligence happen under their watch. As far as blaming it on housing is ludacris! Did the Mayor and the SAO ( who are experts on housing! ) ask the GN to see if they could enter into an MOU for staff housing for key employees necessary to run the city facilities?? I don’t think so. As far as the duds that you were stuck with within the last few years, I know a few that would have not left the city without an engineer for 15 months! BTW, The city is understaffed in every departments. Why??? I think it’s self-explanatory. Employees are undermined, micromanaged by the city council, the mayor and the SAO (Remember…the ones that should be submitted to competence test!) without mentioning the City employees are not paid at par with the GN employees. As a result, you have revolving doors at the City…employees are quitting and it’s at a dangerous and critical point where we are seeing incidents like the water crisis. HOLDING IT TOGETHER take your head out of the sand! lol

  9. Posted by Work From Home on

    I would guess a large portion of GN positions could be done from the south, why are people forced to be here and take up housing? Yes a director of public works needs to be here. Same for police and medical people. But why do we fill houses with people who literally work on a computer and phone all day? The federal government is doing this already so get with the times. That may free up housing for everyone including Iqaluit City.

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  10. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Didn’t Amy Elgersma start her career with the City as the lifeguard at the (old) pool? I’m sure that qualifies her for anything “water” related.
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    Come on people you don’t need sophisticated lab tests to know that water has been contaminated with a petroleum product – just smell it.
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    All the lab test will do is determine what type of fuel it is, and the degree of contamination.
    .
    I would say that it’s about time for the territorial government to take over the city, but that would probably just make it worse.

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  11. Posted by articrick on

    City officials have to be held accountable at the highest standards, if not, then emergencies like this one will have a effect on the population.

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  12. Posted by bill walker on

    Maybe the city should have bought some houses to allocate to important positions before building a multi million dollar aquatic center??? do ya thinK??

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  13. Posted by Colin on

    There’s something wrong that there aren’t several Inuit engineers qualified to fill the position of director of public works.

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    • Posted by John K on

      Ya … the fact that Inuit aren’t becoming engineers.

      There is no hidden bunker somewhere out on the tundra full of lost Inuit professionals.

  14. Posted by Ned Flanders on

    A rhetorical suggestion.
    Can’t hire because of no housing available? Hire local….

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    • Posted by Simple! on

      Whoever is hired needs to be at least somewhat qualified and interested in the position. The position. Is posted. “Locals” are welcome to apply. It’s not like it’s being hidden from Inuit or residents of Iqaluit.

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