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Iqaluit charged for five sewage spills

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 17/01) - Environment Canada has charged the City of Iqaluit with 14 counts of violating the Fisheries Act.

NNSL Photo

Iqaluit SAO Rick Butler: city has already made changes to sewage management -

The federal government will take the city to court next February over five sewage spills between April and July.

According to Hal Sommerstad, manager of Environment Canada's pollution enforcement division in Edmonton, the total volume of raw effluent that spilled from two Iqaluit sewage lift stations topped 600,000 litres.

In all, the city faces fines of up to $300,000

The fecal matter drained into Koojesse Inlet, which is home to several species of fish and shellfish. Initially, no action was taken to prevent the harvest of marine life in the area.

Later, however, the Nunavut Health Department issued a temporary advisory not to harvest shellfish in August. Because the matter will go before the court, Sommerstad would not elaborate on any details of the case.

The charges as they have been filed before the court say the city "did unlawfully deposit or permit the deposit of ... sewage."

City officials were also tight-lipped. "I'm not even going to touch this one with a 10-foot pole on advice from my lawyer," said city engineer Matthew Hough.

Iqaluit senior administrator Rick Butler said much has changed since the spring spills, although he, too, refused to get into specifics.

"The city has been very aggressive about doing all sorts of things," he said. We've had a review of the operations plan, the emergency plan, the whole public works.

The city's budget, however, offers some clues. Council included a $50,000 line item in its 2002 capital expenses to upgrade lift station No. 1, noting that: "Several pump failures ... have led to sewage spills. It is necessary to replace the pumps and add a failsafe to the station."

That statement was echoed by city truck driver Andrew Crout, who was on duty when one of the spills happened. Crout said he and two other trucks were ordered over to the lift station, which had stopped working. The truck drivers worked to suck backed-up sewage spilling out of a manhole.

"There was a lot of sewage," Crout said.

Steve Harbicht, head of the assessment and monitoring group for Environment Canada in Yellowknife, said sewage spills are not necessarily lethal.

"It all depends on the toxicity," he said. "If it's a fairly high level of ammonias, it can result in 100 per cent toxicity for fish or other forms of marine life. It all depends on the concentration and how quickly it's deposited and so forth."

This is not the first time the city has been charged for a sewage leak.

In 1993, the government of the Northwest Territories was fined $89,000 when the west dyke of the Iqaluit sewage lagoon washed out in 1991, releasing more than 53 million litres of raw sewage into Koojesse Inlet.

The charges then were almost identical to those issued now. The sentencing included a number of specific suggestions to improve the quality of sewage handling in Iqaluit. City officials would not say if those recommendations had been carried out.

In his Nov. 2, 1993 ruling, Justice Michel Bourassa wrote, "Governments can commit offences as readily as humans or corporations.... The defendant simply, as far as I can determine, abandoned its responsibility."