Sewage lagoons cause a stink
DIAND threatens fines, jail terms for failing to meet federal standards
Hamlets in Nunavut are facing huge penalties for failing to address crumbling infrastructure, but without money or formal ownership of waste and sewage sites, they are powerless to comply with national standards.
Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson said that recent directives from the federal government illustrate a bigger problem that has plagued Nunavut’s hamlets at least since the birth of Nunavut – just who owns the garbage dumps and sewage sites?
The hamlet of Arctic Bay has received “threatening letters” from federal regulators who said the hamlet’s sewage lagoon does not comply with federal regulations, Quttiktuq MLA Levi Barnabas told the legislative assembly on May 14.
The letter, sent from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to Bill Harding, Arctic Bay’s senior administrative officer, calls on Harding and Doug Sitland, the director of capital programs for Community Government and Transportation, to fix the hamlet’s overflowing sewage lagoon immediately.
Failure to respond could result in a $100,000 fine, a one-year jail term, or both, under the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act. Barnabas later tabled the letter in the house.
Peterson presented a similar letter received by Kitnuna Corp. in Cambridge Bay last September, along with a letter he wrote to Peter Kilabuk, minister of Community and Government Services, asking who should be responsible in the event that charges are laid.
That DIAND letter threatened Barry Wilson, vice-president of the private fuel depot, with charges for dumping hazardous material – in this case, waste oil – into Cambridge Bay’s waste metal dump.
Failure to remove the waste oil could mean a $100,000 fine, one year in jail, or both, also under the Nunavut Waters act.
Wilson approached the hamlet of Cambridge Bay when he got his letter, but found the hamlet unable to respond.
“Everybody that owns garages takes barrels out to the metal waste dumps,” Peterson said. As a result, the sites contain hazardous materials ranging from old fridges containing freon, which scientists say depletes the ozone layer, to old propane tanks.
“If we owned the dumps, maybe we could do something about it,” Peterson said.
Peterson believes that concern about liabilities has held up discussions of ownership.
Meanwhile, hamlets are left to deal with problems on the ground.
Peterson said that what the government of Nunavut calls “community empowerment” should be called “deficit reduction,” implying that the government is shifting liability to the municipalities just to get the problem off the books.
“The hamlets don’t have the capacity to deal with this stuff,” he said. “Now, the regulators are telling people who don’t have any money to clean it up.”
Peterson also points out that the hamlets, on their own, will never be able to get new federal money to repair the decaying infrastructure that’s causing so many problems.
He points out that a federal Green Funds program, designed to help municipalities build environmentally sound infrastructure, operates by matching funds raised from other sources. On their own, Nunavut’s hamlets have no access to starter funds that federal authorities could match.
The sewage lagoon in Cambridge Bay fails regularly, Peterson says.
Arctic Bay’s sewage lagoon began leaking into Strathcona Sound last August.
At that time, the department of Community Government and Transportation stepped in to fix the problem, but Barnabas called this a “bandage solution.”
Last week, Barnabas tabled a series of photographs that show the overflowing lagoon.
“It has been five years that the hamlet has been asking Department of Community and Government Services about the sewage lagoon,” Barnabas told the assembly on May 14. “I would like to know when you will be starting this.”
Kilabuk explained that a major review this summer will look at Arctic Bay’s sewage needs for the next 20 years.
Joe Allen Evyagotailak, the MLA for Kugluktuk, said that his community had the same problem, and wanted to know when that lagoon could be upgraded.
Meanwhile, the hamlet of Pangnirtung, Kilabuk’s home community, reports success with its new sewage treatment plant, which began operation in April and will be run by the government of Nunavut for one year before responsibility is shifted to the hamlet.