Grise Fiord's sewage blues
Hamlet's sole truck breaks down

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Jan 25/99) - The sewage has hit the fan. There's just no other way to describe the troubles currently being experienced by residents of Nunavut's most Northerly hamlet.

When a piece of the diesel engine on Grise Fiord's only sewage truck broke down on Jan. 14, the 160 residents were left without any way to get rid of their sewage.

Robert Sheaves, the hamlet's assistant senior administrative officer, said that when the governor on the fuel pump gave out on the four or five-year-old municipal vehicle, they had to initiate a search for what would end up to be a very costly part to replace.

"They don't normally go and nobody in the North is big enough to stock this component," said Sheaves.

When hamlet officials learned that the western Arctic's Kingland Ford -- the Yellowknife-based car dealer that originally sold them the truck -- didn't stock the part, Sheaves said they went on to the manufacturer, only to learn that no one in Canada had it in stock.

"We had to go to the States and then we couldn't get the part in the States," laughed a frustrated Sheaves.

He said that someone finally located a similar part that could be used and as of last Thursday, the replacement, and a mechanic to install it, were en route to Grise Fiord.

"It's not a simple part to change. You can't just order a governor and put it in. You need a certified mechanic."

With an estimated total price tag of almost $20,000 for the repair -- the part alone rings in at $4,000 -- Sheaves said the unbudgeted expenditure meant another budgeted expense would have to be put on hold.

"Bills have to be paid so we'll find it elsewhere and move it around. We'll make ends meet. That's what I get paid for."

Sheaves said that until the sewage truck was back on the road, the hamlet would continue to make do with the ingenious, improvised method devised by the municipality's foreman.

"We dug out an old 500-gallon tank from the scrap dump and temporarily attached it to a 928 loader that carries it around from house to house on the forks," explained Sheaves.

A trash pump, carried by a vehicle when it's available, follows the loader around and sewage from residential and commercial buildings is pumped into the tank. When it's full, the loader heads out to the sewage dump and the tank is taken off, emptied and strapped back on.

"It's time consuming and labour intensive but we've had to improvise because sewage is a vital service," said Sheaves, who wanted to thank the hamlet's residents for being so understanding and patient during the fiasco.

Jane Flaherty, a mother of an 11-month-old and a one-year-old child, said that while the situation hadn't been too bad, having children made it even trickier.

"We've got to do laundry, flush the toilet, have baths and do dishes. I'll be glad to get back to normal and get my laundry done and my kitchen sorted out," said Flaherty, a casual teacher at Umimmak School.

She said the biggest inconvenience was having to use her grandmother's washroom when her own toilet stopped working. She added that when the smell of diesel from the loader mixed with the sewage, it was overpowering.

While Sheaves had high hopes that the mechanic would have the truck up and running by the beginning of the weekend, the matter raised the question of why the isolated community doesn't have a back-up sewage truck.

"We are well aware that we should have a second truck but the financial reality has never allowed for it," said Sheaves, adding that, including unexpected repairs to the hamlet's water truck last year, an estimated $50,000 had been dropped on unbudgeted repairs between the two municipal vehicles.

He blamed federal government cutbacks for putting the squeeze on the GNWT's ability to finance municipal projects.

"The bottom line is the federal government has been doing cutbacks so the territorial government has gone downhill. It all starts with the feds," said Sheaves.

"To coin a phrase, all fecal matter runs downhill."