July 2, 2004

Resolution Island cleanup employs 90

Applicants get chance to train in trades, other occupations

GREG YOUNGER-LEWIS

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The area near the beach at Resolution Island, showing the results of QC’s cleanup work. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE QIKIQTAALUK CORP.)

Resolution Island

Nunavut businesses and workers continue to reap the rewards of a PCB cleanup on Resolution Island, as the project reaches a record in Inuit employment and money spent on local contracts this year.

Qikiqtaaluk Corp., the Inuit economic development agency handling the clean-up, reports that 90 Nunavummiut workers are employed on Resolution, southeast of Baffin Island.

That gives QC the right to brag that they’ve hired a workforce that’s 88 per cent Inuit, with the majority from Iqaluit.

Nunavummiut are also earning an estimated $1.7 million in salaries this year, a significant jump from the $215,000 in salaries when the project began seven years ago.

Harry Flaherty, president of QC, which has handled the $40-million contract under the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs since 1997, called the project’s track record “good news” for Nunavut.

Resolution Island holds the dubious status of being one of the most contaminated pieces of land controlled by DIAND. The U.S. Air Force used the island as an early warning radar site from 1953 to 1972, leaving huge swaths of tundra ruined by toxic chemicals.

However, the federal Department of National Defence agreed with the U.S. government in 1974 to take care of the expensive cleanup, which deals with toxic substances like lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs. Workers aim to contain the damage caused by eight garbage dumps and over 4,000 barrels littered around the area.

Glen Stephens, regional manager of environment and contaminants for Indian Affairs, said the cleanup will protect Nunavummiut who eat country foods, because workers will prevent the toxic material from entering the food chain.

Stephens said PCBs are particularly dangerous because they migrate easily from one contaminated creature, like a seal, to their predators, such as polar bears and humans.

Although the site covers only three square kilometres of its 1,000 square-kilometre land mass, Resolution Island provides a home to numerous ringed seals and polar bears, who are known to destroy the island kitchen and food storage sites when workers are away. Also, bowhead whales can be seen swimming off the contaminated island’s coast.

“That’s the concern, that [the chemicals] would continue up the food chain,” Stephens said. “It’s been a concern for a long period of time.”

Aside from the environmental damage, Resolution Island’s contaminated soil has proven a boon to Nunavut, creating rare training opportunities and summer jobs in a region struggling with high unemployment.

Over 200 Nunavummiut applied to work on the island this year, drawn by the prospect of training as carpenters, welders, plumbers, and electricians. The project has also turned out over 100 construction workers, heavy equipment operators, office managers, clerks, and even a helicopter pilot.

Project managers have rehired several workers from previous years, but lost some to other jobs, such as overseeing the construction of the new regional hospital in Iqaluit. The program also trained Stephan Kilabuk before he joined the RCMP as a constable, and Elisapee Sheutiapik, before she became mayor of Iqaluit.

Flaherty said the program’s legacy will live on long after his crew winds down next year and long-term monitoring of the site begins.

He said the program creates a ready workforce in Nunavut qualified for future jobs under the federal government.

The Liberal government announced in this year’s budget that it plans to spend $3.5 billion over the next 10 years to clean up contaminated sites around Canada.

“The results [of this project] are a readily available workforce,” he said. “This is good news.”

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