Iqaluit has had no director of public works for 15 months
City leaders say vacancy had no effect on response to water crisis
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.