Water contamination and ravens spreading garbage: concerns linger over Iqaluit's new landfill

Birds fly over the landfill in Iqaluit. The city intends to open a new landfill by 2025, but the project is already overbudget and, according to some councilors and construction experts, insufficient. (Beth Brown/CBC - image credit)
Birds fly over the landfill in Iqaluit. The city intends to open a new landfill by 2025, but the project is already overbudget and, according to some councilors and construction experts, insufficient. (Beth Brown/CBC - image credit)

The City of Iqaluit is getting closer to building its new landfill and waste transfer station.

But not all councillors are on board with the current plans, citing sustainability, litter and contamination concerns.

When the new landfill and waste transfer station was announced in 2018, it was supposed to be operational by 2020. But the deadline was pushed back — first to 2023, now to 2025.

The city's current landfill is at capacity. Former mayor Madeleine Redfern called it an "environmental disaster," and announced the new $35 million facility during her term.

But since that announcement, the price of construction has gone up, and many aspects of the original plan have been removed or adjusted.

Limited access to reusable materials

Originally, the new landfill was supposed to include a building for a reuse centre, where residents could come and scavenge for materials to build cabins or look for motor parts. But the budget will only allow for a small building or a sea-can for this purpose.

"When I hear of a sea-can as an option for a reuse centre, that's wholly inadequate and it's not acceptable to me," said councillor Kyle Sheppard.

Sheppard says the reuse centre is a critical part of the project, and access to reusable materials is important to residents. He says access to these things at the current dump is unsafe and the city needs a way of making materials available safely.

"I would hate to see our residents lose access to all of that and have additional waste going to the waste storage site," said Sheppard.

Other items that have been removed from the plans are a pelletizer — which would cut up cardboard and wood that could be burned to hear the sorting facility — a landfill perimeter fence and a leachate treatment system.

No plan to treat contaminated water

Leachate is created when garbage contaminates snow and rain. It is currently unknown how the city will remediate the leachate created at the new dump.

For now, plans say the contaminated water will be captured in a storage lagoon at the dump, which some experts say might not be enough to handle the problem.

"We don't necessarily know the strength or how contaminated this runoff water will be," said Erik Marko, a project manager with Collier Project Leaders.

"It's difficult to design a treatment process that is appropriate for what we specifically will be dealing with in this case."

The current plan is to store the leachate in the lagoon for a few years until the city knows what is appropriate for treatment. If the lagoon fills, it will need to be transferred to the wastewater treatment plant.

But by the time that happens, it will be a new mayor and council's problem. Future city administrations will have to find funding and solutions to deal with the leachate.

City of Iqaluit
City of Iqaluit

The orginal landfill plan budgeted about $100,000 for a leachate treatment system at the dump — which Scott Kyle of Dillon Consulting believes was a notable underestimate from the start. He says a treatment system would actually cost between $3 and $5 million.

'Serious problems with ravens:' Mayor

Several councillors also expressed concern about litter polluting the surrounding area.

"We have a serious problem with ravens, always," said Mayor Kenny Bell. "They will and can get through those bails.

"I want to know how we are going to deal with that so the garbage isn't all over our beautiful land."

A six-foot fence to catch loose litter would solve that problem — but all councillors were in agreement that the currently-planned fence isn't high enough.

Chair of the Engineering and Public Works committee Romeyn Stevenson says most landfills have cleanup programs to deal with surrounding garbage.

"It happens — landfills blow litter — but we have been weirdly accustomed to allowing it to just go out onto the ice and go out onto the road and stay in the ditch and carry on in storms," he said.

Stevenson says in the past the city has obtained government funding to have high school students pick up garbage. But there is no ongoing municipal program for garbage cleanup.

Counc. Joanasie Akumalik says he has reservations about this project.

" I [would] rather that somebody go back to the drawing board," said Akumalik.

But the project has been approved through the city's capital budget, and the construction of the road to where the landfill will be built has already started.

This spring, the city plans to issue two tenders for the project.

At an Engineering and Public Works committee of the whole meeting Monday, Ketih Barns of Dillon Consulting Limited said the tenders must be granted by May in order to start construction this summer.