Iqaluit sewage fiasco could have been avoided
Iqaluit’s sewage treatment plant is a facility that should never have been built.
Long before the plant was constructed, the Town of Iqaluit was informed by letter on Aug. 25, 1999, that the system proposed by Hill Murray was not suitable for this type of application.
Several other warnings had been issued from knowledgeable sources in British Columbia who had experience with that treatment method in Powell River, B.C.
The letter was sent to Mathew Spence, then the chairman of the planning committee, warning him of the inherent problems with the Hill Murray system and offering to provide a simple, alternative system for less than half the estimated cost of the proposed one.
Furthermore, the letter went on to offer a trial run to prove its practicality before the town would have to make a commitment.
The correspondence was ignored. The town continued to negotiate with Hill Murray.
I became concerned about the project when I was sent newspaper articles from Powell River about their plant. Having served the community as mayor, I still get information through a network of old associates all over Canada.
After I read this material, I tried to persuade the deputy minister, Mike Ferris, and the town engineer, Mathew Hough, that they should do more homework and talk to the people in Powell River.
The system there was not working, the effluent was not meeting the required specifications of the government, and community complained about the terrible odours.
These problems were not secret. They had been published in the press. They reported frequently on the failure of the plant to meet health standards, and on the fact that the effluent being dumped into the ocean was virtually untreated.
The result of the controversy was that the council and mayor of Powell River lost their jobs.
The big surprise was the operating costs of the Iqaluit plant. They were way over budget and the operation was such that it required very skilled personnel to operate.
Costs being what they are in the North, this would have been astronomical. The system requires 24-hour-a-day skilled care.
All of this was passed on to the town and to the GNWT. I suggested to both principals that a visit to Powell River would cost a few thousand dollars and might save millions in the end.
During my final discussion with Mathew Hough, he told me that they were already committed, and at that very moment he was in the process of signing a cheque for $3 million as a down payment for the plant.
Not long after that call, the news was that Hill Murray was bankrupt and was selling out to another firm. I passed this information on to the local people, but by then it was too late to stop the process. The material was on the ship and the plant was built.
During the testing of the plant, the huge concrete tanks that were to hold the sewage were found to be leaking. This problem was due to poor workmanship and quality control. The tanks had to undergo expensive and costly repairs.
Heated storage for the huge quantities of supplies and equipment needed to run the plant have cost the municipality a lot of money. The basic cost of the present plan was about $7 million. Add to that the bill for repairs to the tanks, then the cost of storage for the special plastic membranes, which by now have deteriorated and would be unusable anyway.
Include the maintenance costs, the heating of the building, and not a single turd has been processed.
It probably makes more sense now to abandon the present plant and build a new facility. The location of the present building is not ideal, due to the massive accumulation of snow at the end of the runway. This does prevent people from getting to work during inclement weather, and could prove to be a major impediment with such a crucial operation.
There is a Scandinavian process for sewage treatment that could be employed and adapted to the present plant. This suggestion was made to the municipality two years ago, and so far, no response.
The cost of conversion would be in the region of $3 million. It is a safe and effective process that does work in Arctic conditions. It works well in Arctic Scandinavia, and could be adapted to the present plant.
Whatever happens now, it will cost more than $12 million to resolve this problem.