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No room for error
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Remediation work at the Giant Mine site, which is heavily contaminated with arsenic trioxide has, understandably, left many uneasy.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) have set up air monitoring systems around the mine site and in town to watch for toxic dust, a byproduct from the site's days as an operational gold mine.
Arsenic trioxide, to put it bluntly, is dangerous.
According to the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA), a dose of inhaled arsenic of 600 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day can result in death. To put this in perspective, a fatal dose for an average Canadian male would be approximately 48,000 micrograms per day. It takes one million micrograms to make one gram, so a fatal dose of inhaled arsenic is very tiny.
A new study from the University of Manchester in England found that consuming rice with high levels of arsenic, which is still used as a pesticide in Asia, can lead to chromosomal damage. So, it's hardly a secret that arsenic is dangerous, and sitting on the edge of the city is a site containing 237,000 tonnes of the toxic dust and 16 million tonnes of arsenic-rich tailings.
And what's the plan if it can actually be determined a toxic arsenic cloud is heading toward a populated area?
Tell the city to institute its emergency plan.
That's it. The plan of AANDC, in the event of a potential disaster, is to put the problem on to the city instead.
To make things worse, air detectors have already been proven to be less than reliable, with a spike registered on July 1 and 2 as a result of smoke from forest fires blowing into town.
Also, if Kevin O'Reilly of Alternatives North is correct, the sensors, without additional analysis, are unable to differentiate between arsenic particulates and other kinds of pollution, such as smoke.
Long-term exposure to arsenic dust can lead to problems, as seen by the town of Takachiho, Japan. Over a five-decade period starting in the 1920s, the town saw an increase in skin and lung cancers as the result of arsenic production from the Toroku danborite mine.
Giant Mine is one of the most toxic sites in the country and among the most expensive to maintain, according to a 2012 report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
Despite that cost we can't help but share O'Reilly's unease when thinking about the safety response plans and monitoring system that AANDC has in place.
When dealing with a toxic substance such as arsenic trioxide there is no such thing as too stringent.
And, can you really put a price tag on the health and safety of more than 20,000 people?
Don't ever lose that small-town kindness
Editorial Comment by Miranda Scotland
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, July 24, 2013
As much as we like to think we have control over our lives, there are always those moments that remind us we don't.
At those times we are left feeling helpless, vulnerable and lost.
I have had two such moments during my time in the North and in each instance I was lucky enough to have been met with a helping hand.
During the first, my roommate and I had the brilliant idea to do a
70-kilometre bike ride down Yellowknife's Ingraham Trail.
It was a rather ambitious goal given that my idea of exercise at the time was walking to and from work.
Still, we made it through the first 35 kilometres and took a well-deserved snack break before turning back the way we came.
Unfortunately, that's when things started to go wrong for me.
With every pedal my right knee became more and more sore.
It came to the point where I told my roommate to just go ahead because I was going to need to take it slow.
He took off and I pushed through the pain until I made it to about five kilometres from the city limits.
I pulled my bike over to the side of the road and slumped down on the gravel, realizing even though the end was in sight my body was in no shape to make it.
After fishing my cellphone from my pocket, I called for a cab and told the operator I was on the Ingraham Trail by the Mining Heritage Society's building. Amazingly, the woman didn't even know about the Ingraham Trail.
I was thinking I was never going to make it home when a truck pulled over to the side of the road.
A woman rolled down the window and asked me if I was OK.
Relieved beyond belief, I explained what had happened and asked if they would drive me home. They quickly agreed.
I dare say I have never been more grateful for the kindness of a stranger.
My second reminder that I don't always have control over life happened more recently.
I had driven out to the elders' cabin to cover an event and when I got there, someone pointed out my vehicle had a flat tire.
When it comes to cars I know nothing, so my instinct was to call the local mechanic shops but that yielded nothing.
I was feeling pretty helpless when a local resident said her husband was coming and had a pump I could use to put air in the tire.
It turned out we couldn't use the pump but he and his friend were kind enough to put on my vehicle's spare tire.
I was once again moved by strangers' willingness to help out.
Having lived in a city where people won't even help you lift a suitcase up a couple of stairs, it meant a lot to me.
It is nice to know that when things get hectic, there are people around who will help.
Now I know the North is known for its generous and kind people, but it can't be said enough and it shouldn't be taken for granted.
If you have one of those moments as I have had, please take the time to show your appreciation.
- Miranda Scotland is interim editor of Kivalliq News while editor Darrell Greer is on vacation
Cold turkey on addictions
NWT News/North - Monday, July 22, 2013
If it's not broke, don't fix it. But when our territory is so plagued with issues that time and again residents have called out for change, it is time to act.
That is exactly what the territorial government is doing in its proactive, if not shocking, announcement of axing its funding of the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre, the NWT's only residential addictions treatment facility, as of Sept. 30.
Current treatment programs in the territory have been under fire for years. In a report released by the health department in 2002, titled A State of Emergency ... Evaluation of Addictions Services in the NWT, it doesn't mince words by stating, "90 per cent of community addictions programs indicated dissatisfaction with the scope of services offered by Nats'ejee K'eh" and that, "the current system of addictions services, as structured, has failed the residents of the Northwest Territories."
The government has failed time and again to produce a functioning, successful addictions program for the territory that is culturally relevant for the diversity of its residents.
The numbers don't lie: 43 per cent of residents surveyed in the most recent survey from 2009 said they typically consume five or more drinks on one occasion. This is an increase from 34 per cent in 1996 and almost four times the national average.
Violence against women is nine times higher in the NWT than the rest of Canada, according to Statistics Canada, and while this can't be solely attributed to the influence of alcohol and addictions, if there's a fire burning, that's the smoke.
By walking away from the treatment centre, a 30-bed facility for adults that has recently been sitting at 50 per cent capacity, the government is admitting this isn't working. For those who need residential treatment, they will be referred to facilities in Alberta and British Columbia, an expensive and not-as-effective solution as getting help at home, but something that is hopefully to be used as a short-term solution.
Health care is expensive and only in a perfect world can all programs and services be offered in every community. In the most recent budget, $1.15 million was earmarked for the government's mental health and addictions action plan launched in 2012. But even that was not enough as members of the legislative assembly brought forward a motion for more money to be invested and for more to be done. The GNWT then allocated an additional $1.145 million in March 2013.
Many have cried out against the decision to close the treatment centre because of the lost jobs and the withdrawal of residential addictions treatment in the NWT. However, there would have also been fingers pointed if things continued on as they were, with money being invested in the status quo that hasn't seen progress, but has instead worsened.
Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu is listening to the people. The report developed by the Minister's Forum on Addictions and Community Wellness states the top priority from residents throughout the NWT is community-based and operated on-the-land programming. While the report states residential treatment centres are important, it continued hearing that the land heals and that aboriginal culture and spirituality close to the support network of family and friends must be a component of programs to fight addictions that plague the people of this territory.
The government could have trudged along doing more consultations, calling for more reports, and spent more than $2 million in the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre for another year. But the decision to act, to pool resources on what residents want, is a commitment to do better.
The government is now in uncharted waters and the onus is on it to produce results. Those results have to happen fast. The centre is closed by the end of September, leaving a little more than two months for programs to be put in place.
This has to be done responsibly and with urgency, as many Northerners and their families are depending on the help.
Vast consequences from damaging aircraft
Nunavut News/North - Monday, July 22, 2013
First, it was a helicopter window that was damaged at the Pangnirtung Airport on June 28.
Then, on July 9, a small plane in Pangnirtung was broken into and some equipment was stolen, including a GPS device and safety flares.
It may seem like petty theft and minor vandalism, but these two incidents are serious and have far-reaching consequences.
And, unfortunately, the two incidents in Pangnirtung are not alone. A similar situation happened in Pond Inlet last year, which resulted in Nunavut Airports paying the cost of a night-time security guard to patrol the tarmac after Canadian North's Dash-8 aircraft were broken into four times in a two-year period. Items stolen included cans of pop and hand sanitizer.
Although the cost of the stolen items, and even the price of a new helicopter window, may be relatively small, the result of the crimes is significant. The six-passenger Bell 206LRE Long Ranger was stuck on the ground for several days, meaning not only could it not fulfill its contracted trip, but more importantly, it was unavailable for search and rescue missions the company is often called upon for assistance.
Aviation services are vital to Nunavut communities. They are a life line for residents who require all sorts of goods to be sent via aircraft to their isolated and challenging part of the world.
Threats to the security of aircraft are taken seriously. In the case of Pond Inlet, Canadian North considered changing its schedule so aircraft would not be parked overnight, an inconvenience for passengers who want to fly to Iqaluit in the morning and catch connecting flights south.
Nunavut Airports has taken the initiative to install security cameras at several airports at a cost of $50,000 to $60,000 each. More are being installed next month.
Damage to aircraft at airports also impacts the community as a whole, something the mayor of Pond Inlet was concerned about in May of last year.
One of the responses in that community is to be commended. Following a community meeting, the mayor and deputy mayor went to Ulaajuk Elementary School and Nasivvik High School to emphasize that vandalism doesn't pay. The community took the position that it wanted to change attitudes about damaging aircraft and the dangers involved.
Meanwhile, a call by the senior administrative officer in Pangnirtung to put a new fence around the airport was answered. Repairs to the fence will be done, as well as improvements to outdoor lights to enhance security.
However, we are concerned it may not be feasible for all communities in Nunavut to receive that kind of expensive solution.
Building fences and hiring security guards may be necessary in some communities, but one strategy that must be included is an ongoing effort to make people aware that damaging aircraft only hurts the wider community.
If airlines are forced to reduce service, or aircraft are unavailable for rescue missions because of acts of vandalism, the entire community suffers.
Trash the business model at the dump
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 19, 2013
The beloved Yellowknife dump is a popular destination for many residents, whether it be to purge household detritus, drop off compostables, empty recycling bins or browse for salvage. Sometimes, Sunday is the only day of the week hardworking folks can make the trip.
It's on their behalf that Coun. Bob Brooks turned his nose up last week at the suggestion by facility superintendent Peter Houweling, and echoed by solid waste management committee chair Rebecca Alty, to close the dump on Sundays from Sept. 3 to April 3 in order to staunch an almost $25,000 annual deficit. The lost day would be offset, Houweling suggested, by keeping the dump open an extra 15 minutes per day throughout the rest of the week.
Houweling said the dump loses that amount by opening on Sundays, largely due to double overtime paid to unionized staff. Most of the Sunday losses accrue from fall to spring. By comparison, he pointed to more than $30,000 in revenue collected on Saturdays.
This penny-pinching math should be scrapped, however, given that residents are already doing their part by paying $9 tipping fees, up from no fees in 2005, and homeowners are paying a $16.50 solid waste levy every month, up from $10 in 2005. Meanwhile, the city is asking residents to help make waste collection more efficient after it reduced the bag limit for garbage pick-up to two bags from three last year.
If households are expected to separate organic matter for compost, recyclables and waste to help the environment and cut municipal costs, while paying substantial fees to the city for collection and disposal, dump services should remain as accessible as possible.
A compromise by Brooks to reduce hours on Saturdays and Sundays may be acceptable, but reducing dump hours is a slippery slope that should be entertained cautiously. Besides, if the dump is collecting revenue on Saturdays, why reduce hours?
If the prospect of reduced winter Sunday hours is palatable to taxpayers, then the city should proceed gently. However, the dump should remain open seven days a week all year for public convenience, and because the public is paying for this access, instead of shutting down service for the day to beautify the bottom line.
Beer garden parties must be respectful
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 19, 2013
Last week, the city decided to cut the length of time it will allow the Yellowknife Slopitch Association to serve beer at its events. The change reduces the hours of beer gardens to 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.
Sparking the change were issues raised over time concerning unruly behaviour occurring during the beer gardens that were causing a disturbance.
Just as bars are responsible for their patrons potentially being a problem, so should the organizers of the beer gardens at these sorts of events.
The city's ball diamonds are in the middle of residential areas, meaning that the rights of the neighbourhood should be taken into consideration. Remember, the people that live in the homes nearby may not want to revel in the celebrations as well.
A quick social media search of the Suds Cup brings up images of alcohol-fueled revelry, which is all fine and fun when kept contained. A bar keeps the party within its doors, so beer gardens should be expected to do the same, with proper controls in place by organizers to ensure ensuing partying is done in a respectful manner.
In the end, the beer garden hours were shortened. With some advertisements reading "all day beer gardens," the loss of a couple of hours doesn't kill the fundraising potential granted by a liquor licence but it does serve as a strong warning.
If future softball events keep the party within the diamond and respect their neighbours, then there shouldn't be any more penalizing changes. But if the complaints continue and nothing is done, don't be surprised if future events become dry.
Dealing with bison
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, July 18, 2013
Bison, may be fun for tourists to look at, but they don't make good neighbours.
Once again, some residents and hamlet officials in Fort Liard are complaining and raising concerns about the presence of bison in the community. The litany of bison causes damage, including trampled lawns, broken trees, destroyed gardens and damaged vehicles, among others things.
There are also concerns these large animals could eventually seriously injure a human, potentially one of the community's youth who are known to harass the animals from time to time.
These complaints are nothing new. In fact, some residents say the problem goes back as far as the creation of the Nahanni wood bison population, 33 years ago. The population was established in 1980 when 28 wood bison from Elk Island National Park were released near Nahanni Butte.
The numbers were buoyed by a total of 71 imported bison, released in 1989 and 1998. The population has been holding stable in recent years, with an estimated 400 animals as of March 2011.
It's easy to understand the frustration of Fort Liard residents. Anyone who has ever seen a bison up close or driven past one on an NWT highway knows how large they can be.
By virtue of their sheer immense size and habits, they damage things wherever they go. Anyone who watched their carefully-planted trees snapped off at the base by a bison with an itch or saw their garden trampled and eaten would be upset.
The problem is that, short of destroying all the bison or encircling Fort Liard with a very sturdy wall, neither of which are very practical ideas, the issue won't be going away. In fact, if the size of the herd increases, it may well get worse.
What's needed is some better coping strategies.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) needs to devote more resources to deterring bison from entering the hamlet and herding them out as quickly as possible. This could involve the hiring of more staff and the creation of a dedicated bison hotline that could be called whenever an animal is spotted.
The department should also assist residents in building barriers that would help keep bison away from more sensitive areas such as gardens. As for residents, unfortunately there is little they can do except continue to press for more assistance from ENR, call ENR staff whenever bison are spotted in the community and resign themselves to the fact that the bison and the damage they create will never fully go away.
Assembly good model for Ottawa
Editorial Comment by T. Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, July 18, 2013
It was fascinating to watch and compare the Dene National Assembly held in town last week and contrast it to the typical provincial and federal adversarial style of government.
Without the antics, partisanship and opposition for the sake of opposition, the Dene assembly saw some thoughtful and respectful debate, all of it done in a civil, polite manner.
It's an incredible contrast to what political junkies see regularly at other levels of government, particularly the federal level, where the volume of noise always seem to top thinking and intellectual sparring.
At first glance, a deliberation like the Dene assembly might seem dull by comparison, and it certainly seemed to move a little more slowly. Still, it was a breath of fresh air.
I had a very interesting conversation with Inuvik Tribal Council Chief Herbert Blake about that on the last day of the assembly.
"This must look really interesting to you," he said. "And thank you for making an effort at attending the assembly events. It's been noticed."
I explained to him that as a political junkie, with two degrees in political science, it was an eyeopener for me to watch this. As a student, I learned virtually nothing about government in the North, and had wrongly assumed it was fairly comparable to the standard Canadian model.
I had never really been aware of how the NWT works with a consensus government, much less of the importance of the various aboriginal governments.
I was certainly appreciative of the respect that the various chiefs treated each other with during the assembly.
National Chief Bill Erasmus had to deliver a low admonishment during one session I attended regarding stopping background conversations while a speaker had the floor. Occasionally, he would remind speakers and presenters to keep their comments as short as possible in the interest of finishing on time.
That, however, was the extent of the "bad behaviour" I saw. In general, while the assembly was informal, the members treated each other with great respect and dignity that seems wholly out of place in the political sphere these days.
However, I think it's also what more people want to see. The deliberations were much like what the Canadian Senate is supposed to provide, that being sober second thought. That's something lacking most of the time in both the provincial and federal legislatures.
Several federal politicians were also on hand for the proceedings,
I was idly tempted to ask them if they were learning anything about how a government that values civility could operate, but decided not to stir that pot because it's likely pointless.
Still, it would be nice if they took some of those lessons back to work with them.