Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 12, 2017 - 10:00 am

Nunavut hamlet’s airport an unhealthy workplace, employee says

GN to get federal infrastructure dollars to fix Kimmirut's crumbling airport terminal

STEVE DUCHARME
This photo shows how much dust blows into the Kimmirut airport through cracks in windows and door frames. The building fills up with fumes when the furnace is turned on, and it can fill up with engine exhaust from aircraft. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
This photo shows how much dust blows into the Kimmirut airport through cracks in windows and door frames. The building fills up with fumes when the furnace is turned on, and it can fill up with engine exhaust from aircraft. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
During the day these space heaters must be used to warm the inside of Kimmirut's terminal building because of a defect in the building's chimney that causes smoke to spew from air vents. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
During the day these space heaters must be used to warm the inside of Kimmirut's terminal building because of a defect in the building's chimney that causes smoke to spew from air vents. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
Here's one of the moldy, cracked window frames inside the Kimmirut airport terminal. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
Here's one of the moldy, cracked window frames inside the Kimmirut airport terminal. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
A cracked door frame with rusty hinges, beside a old heating vent that blows furnace fumes into the building. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)
A cracked door frame with rusty hinges, beside a old heating vent that blows furnace fumes into the building. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL ONALIK)

The federal government will soon receive detailed proposals from the Government of Nunavut to improve and replace Kimmirut’s 40-year-old terminal building, after introductory pitches to a federal infrastructure fund were approved earlier in the month, the territory’s transportation department confirmed Oct. 10.

But the Kimmirut airport’s radio operator, Paul Onalik, says any renovation to the current terminal is long overdue, and that the GN’s patchwork upkeep of the building so far has been mostly “quick fixes” and “rush jobs.”

Onalik told Nunatsiaq News he believes longstanding maintenance issues in the building are affecting his health, and could threaten the well-being of other visitors to his community.

“Every time I enter the building I have to take an allergy pill, and if I don’t take allergy pills the right side of my head gets a migraine,” Onalik said, Oct. 11, adding that he has also experienced spells of muscle spasms and vertigo.

Onalik took dozens of photos inside and around the Kimmirut terminal and provided them to Nunatsiaq News during a medical visit to Iqaluit in September.

The photos show cracked windows, exposed wiring and pipes, faulty doors, mouldy walls, a rotten roof, and a terminal seating area heated by two small space heaters because of a defective chimney.

Cracks in the windows and window frames are also causing engine exhaust from planes to enter the building.

“It’s been neglected,” said Onalik, adding that he has sent letters complaining about the terminal’s disrepair to the Hamlet of Kimmirut and Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation since he was first hired as the airport’s Community Aerodrome Radio Station, or CARS, operator almost 11 years ago.

“They keep telling me they’re working on it, maybe [they do] some cosmetic stuff and then they let it slide.”

Nunavut’s director of the new international airport in Iqaluit, John Hawkins, said the territorial government wants to build a new, relocated airport in Kimmirut, but the project won’t be cheap.

Rough estimates put the cost at around $50 million, he said.

Proposals to replace and upgrade the Kimmirut terminal were part of two expressions of interests submitted by the territory and recently approved by the federal government’s National Trade Corridors Fund on Oct. 6, Hawkins said.

Full proposals, or “business cases,” for a new terminal or relocated airport in Kimmirut will be drafted and sent to Ottawa for further consideration, part of a larger package of Nunavut airport improvements submitted by the GN.

But there’s still no guarantee that the project will receive the funding, as other rounds of approval have yet to take place.

“If we had to pick and choose, then [Kimmirut] is in one of the rougher shapes,” Hawkins told Nunatsiaq News, Oct. 10.

Samples of the building collected over the summer are currently being analyzed, Hawkins said, and if hazardous substances like asbestos or mold are discovered then the GN will address the issue.

Hawkins added that the territorial government is aware of the complaints regarding the building’s maintenance.

“If [the analyses] show that there’s designated [dangerous] substances, which I kind of expect they will, then we go into air quality monitoring and we’ll get some money together to make whatever repairs we have to do,” he explained.

“Ultimately, we want to replace that building, and really what we want to do is build that airport in another location.”

Onalik said that a defect in the terminal’s chimney makes use of the building’s furnace during the day impossible because smoke spews from air vents.

As a result, the terminal’s waiting area is heated by two space heaters during operating hours, while the furnace is only turned on overnight.

Another fault in the building’s hot water tank has injured people with scalding water, Onalik alleged, in bathrooms that also have no working ventilation.

Pipes routinely burst and photos provided by Onalik show some of the walls near exposed piping are charred black from patchwork welding.

Flies and other dead insects are also shown in some of the building’s window wells, due to irregular cleaning at the building, Onalik alleges.

“I’m required to be in that building 55 minutes of every hour for eight hours straight,” Onalik said, who explained that his job requires him to constantly monitor the airport’s radio.

In a report tabled at the House of Commons, May 17, the Auditor General of Canada slammed Transport Canada for failing to keep northern airports safe and efficient.

Remote airports are critical for medical service and supply, the auditor general said in his report, noting that “while Transport Canada knew about the infrastructure needs of remote northern airports, it did not lead coordinated efforts to address the unique challenges these airports faced.” 

Kimmirut’s terminal building was identified in the “Nunavut Airport 20-Year Infrastructure Assessment,” released in 2014, as “in need of a temporary facility until a new airport is constructed.”

Kimmirut’s current airport is considered to have one of the most challenging runways in Nunavut, due to its short length and restricted visibility for pilots.

The airport has regular service three days every week from a single plane that departs from Iqaluit, equipped to land on a shortened runway.

Hawkins said the GN has already selected and retained a new site, adjacent to the current airport, which can be used once money for a new airport has been acquired.

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