Rankin Inlet looks at garbage sorting, gate for fire-prone dump
Stalled for years, Nunavut government’s replacement Rankin dump awaits liner, berm
Now that smoke from Rankin Inlet’s smouldering garbage landfill has settled, the hamlet promises to keep a closer eye on what goes into it and draft a garbage-sorting program.
“The plan is to put a gate in and try to see what’s coming in before it gets dumped in,” Justin Merritt, the hamlet’s interim senior administrative officer, told Nunatsiaq News.
Rankin Inlet’s landfill covers an area greater than three football fields in size, according to Merritt, and has taken all of the community’s waste since it first opened in the mid-1980s.
The hamlet has no formal plans right now to separate garbage by type, but the hamlet council promises to change that, Merritt said.
“They’re trying to prepare a plan to do that,” he said July 15.
The landfill gate and plans to sort garbage will be in place by the end of August, Merritt said.
High levels of heat caused by decomposing waste, mixed with loads of unknown materials — including flammables and explosive material —make dump fires a constant hazard in the community.
Although the hamlet’s fire department and public works have answered calls to put out fires at the dump before, none were as extensive as a series of blazes that broke out June 24 and took 10 days to extinguish.
“It spread everywhere,” Merritt said. A series of small fires broke out throughout more than half of the landfill, he said.
The hamlet’s firefighters and public works department extinguished the fires by smothering them with 259 truckloads of sand and gravel, said Joe Kaludjak, the director of public works.
The last flames went out July 4.
“The first four or five days were the worst,” Merritt said.
Thick smoke blew into the community June 25, causing poor visibility.
Nunavut’s health department warned residents to stay indoors and minimize their exposure to the smoke, and airlines cancelled flights that evening.
Residents heard a series of explosions in the early stages of the fire. The source of the explosions are “anybody’s guess,” Merritt said.
“It could have been anything. It could have been batteries, old cars, propane tanks, possibly,” he said.
“A lot of stuff has been there for ages. It’s an old dump.”
The fire came a little surprise to the department of public works, because the landfill “is always smouldering,” said Kaludjak.
“When we’re bulldozing the landfill to level it out a bit, every time we go too low, we could see fire coming out,” Kaludjak said.
Merritt said the smouldering Rankin dump gave off smoke “all winter, from time to time.”
“We’re not so sure, but it was probably burning all winter under the snow,” he said.
Once summer set in, “we had an awful lot of heat in June, and no rain,” Merritt said. “My guess is that it probably spread from there.”
Rankin Inlet’s fire was the second major landfill fire of the year reported in Nunavut. The first, in Iqaluit, started May 20 and continues to burn.
Unlike Iqaluit, where the fire is smouldering in a 10-metre-high pile, Rankin Inlet’s landfill has not exceeded capacity, and is level with the ground.
The hamlet’s landfill will take two to four years to reach capacity, according to Kaludjak.
The territorial government built a second landfill site in the community “10 to 12 years ago,” he said.
The new site can’t be used, however, because it isn’t lined with a barrier to keep liquid waste from leaching out of the site.
According to federal and territorial regulations, “every new dump needs to have a berm on it to contain whatever’s in the landfill,” Kaludjak said.
“It’s got fencing around it and everything, ready to go — except the berm,” Kaludjak said of the unused site. “That’s one of the reasons we haven’t used it.”
The Government of Nunavut’s department of Community and Government Services is responsible for the new site, Merritt said, adding that both the old and new sites are on commissioner’s land, owned by the territorial government.
“They have to make sure they go through all the environmental approvals,” he said. “So we’re just waiting for that.”