DEW Line forever?
Inuit break off talks about clean-up funding

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 21/97) - Environmental groups across the country are reeling after learning Canada negotiated a DEW Line clean-up deal with the U.S. worth only $100 million.

Not only is this amount a fraction of what the clean-up is predicted to cost, the funds can only be used to buy American military equipment.

"Canada negotiated a bad deal -- how could the government actually agree with it?" asked Kevin O'Reilly, research director with Canadian Arctic Resources Committee.

"They couldn't even get $100 million in cash to use for the clean-up." O'Reilly said that Canadian taxpayers are ultimately left holding the bag for what the U.S. military clearly should take responsibility for.

"If the military brought in this stuff, they should bring it out," he said.

James Eetoolook, vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said Ottawa is leaving Northerners out in the cold by using the $100-million deal with the U.S. to buy military equipment that has nothing to do with environmental clean-up.

"Having recently and repeatedly asked for an update on these talks between the two countries, and being told by DND that there was little to report, we find out now that not only was there a deal struck as long ago as last fall, but further the money agreed to won't be spent on the clean up," he said.

The Distant Early Warning Line radar bases were built between 1953 and 1957 as part of North America's defence system under the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The line originally consisted of 63 sites, 42 in Canada.

In March 1985, Canada and the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding to modernize the North American air defence system. As a result, five sites were decommissioned and the other 16 were converted into North Warning System (NW) sites under the management of the Department of National Defence.

While the DEW Lines sites were operated by the U.S. Air Force, Canada manages the operations and maintenance of NW sites in Canadian territory.

Responsibility is now shared between DND and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs -- 21 sites for each. Responsibility was shifted to DIAND in 1962 when the sites were decommissioned and returned to them.

Nunavut Tunngavik has now broken off talks with DND after two and a half years of trying unsuccessfully to agree on a plan for the clean-up.

(The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation has already negotiated a separate $68-million deal to clean up the five DEW Line site with the Inuvialuit settlement area.)

"DND is asking NTI to accept a clean-up procedure that we do not believe will result in safe sites and therefore will not protect Inuit in their environment," said NTI president Jose Kusugak.

O'Reilly said the whole situation is scandalous and should become an election issue.

"Because of this lousy deal, Canadian taxpayers have with the U.S., they are left having to pay," he said. "But it's the kind of agreement that you might expect when military groups from two countries who don't care about the environment get together."