Last minute deal averts gravel crisis

DIAND to grant full access to North 40 gravel pit



It looks as if there will be gravel for construction in Iqaluit this summer after all.

The city and the federal government are close to agreeing on a management plan that would govern access to North 40, Iqaluit’s only source of gravel.

“I do hope within a week, two at the most, we’ll have full access to the North 40,” said Geoff Baker, the city’s engineer.

That’s a big change from last week, when both parties appeared unwilling to budge from their positions in an impasse that threatened to bring construction in Iqaluit to a halt this summer.

Gravel may look unimportant, but you can’t build much without it.

Up to $70 million in business is at stake, warned one construction company owner during a meeting last week organized by the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce in an attempt to bring two warring parties together.

On one side, federal regulators insisted that the city needed a water licence to quarry gravel in North 40.

On the other, city officials maintained they needed no water licence, because they say surrounding water won’t be affected by gravel operations.

Besides, the city has not had a valid water licence since 2000. That hasn’t stopped them from using the North 40 as a quarry, until now.

Instead, the city would use the same management plan used to quarry gravel for the last two years.

After a meeting on Friday, federal regulators now appear willing to accept this plan.

Bernie MacIsaac, an official with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, said in an interview this week that his department believed the city needed a water licence for North 40 because earlier, the city had applied for one.

That suggests that water would somehow be affected, MacIsaac said. “It’s implicit.”

The city backed out of the licence application when one condition of the contract became apparent: they could be on the hook to clean up and restore the site.

Besides being the city’s sole source of gravel, North 40 also happens to be contaminated with heavy metals, petroleum and asbestos. Most believe the contaminants are a legacy of the site’s former role as a metal dump used by the U.S. Air Force during the 1950s.

No one wants to claim ownership of the site, because that could mean ultimately having to clean it up — at a cost of millions of dollars.

At last week’s meeting, the city’s deputy mayor, Glenn Williams, said he hoped the gravel crisis would add “leverage” to the city’s position in the ownership dispute and lead to a commitment from the federal government to clean up North 40.

That doesn’t look likely to happen soon.

North 40’s gravel supply is nearly exhausted. By next year, the city plans to have a five-kilometre road built that will stretch past Upper Base towards a new gravel supply.
Then North 40 will fall into disuse, and city officials fear it will become that much easier to ignore.

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