Baffin mayors question GN on hamlet infrastructure woes

Hamlet officials recite litany of troubles at mayors’ forum


Bu Lam, director of community infrastructure, left, and Bill Westwell, senior manager of municipal planning for Nunavut’s department of community and government services, hear out questions from mayors at the Baffin Mayors’ Forum, March 6. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Bu Lam, director of community infrastructure, left, and Bill Westwell, senior manager of municipal planning for Nunavut’s department of community and government services, hear out questions from mayors at the Baffin Mayors’ Forum, March 6. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Lagging infrastructure construction and municipal services dominated the final day of the Baffin mayors’ forum in Iqaluit March 6, when mayors of the region’s 13 municipalities raised repeated questions about waste sites and waste disposal, indoor sports pads and arenas, and a shortage of qualified personnel.

Officials from the Government of Nunavut’s Community and Government Services department, which supports programs and funding to the municipalities, were ready to give answers on the status of most programs.

But they said quick fixes and long-term projects are constrained by limits on access to funding from the federal government — which the department ultimately relies on.

“There is a fairly large infrastructure gap in the communities, even at the basic level,” said Bu Lam, director of community infrastructure for CGS.

“Unfortunately, with the sheer number of needs and our fiscal realities at the GN, it’s hard to address all municipal infrastructure that’s identified. But we do our best.”

Lam and Bill Westwell, senior manager of municipal planning at CGS, did their best to answer many of the same questions that Baffin mayors threw the day before at the minister in charge of the department, Tom Sammurtok.

Top of mind among the mayors March 6, the final day of the three-day forum, was the need for upgrades to garbage dumps and sewage treatment facilities.

Joe Arragutainaq, mayor of Sanikiluaq, led off by asking when CGS would deliver on plans to upgrade his community’s waste site.

“It’s been four years now, and nothing’s been done,” he said. “Do you put projects from some of the communities on the side because they’re too small? I’m just wondering if you have two different systems for two different communities.”

“The answer is no,” Lam replied. The government’s task “is to ensure that there is equal distribution of funding for municipal infrastructure across the territory. One of the largest challenges we have is the lack of funding we have available.”

“There are issues about solid waste all across the territory,” Lam commented. “We’re doing our best to address all of them.”

A new sewage lagoon in Sanikiluaq also met with delays, which Lam clarified were due to corrections in site selection.

The mayors of Resolute Bay and Igloolik raised similar concerns with CGS officials about upgrades to their waste sites.

Mavis Manik worried that the added presence of military personnel in Resolute Bay, during spring and summer, would overtax her community’s waste facilities.

Mayors and councillors from Kimmirut and Qikiqtarjuaq pointed to problems in the lay-out of their garbage landfills.

“The dump is too close to our community,” Qikiqtarjuaq mayor Mary Killiktee told Minister Sammurtok and deputy ministers at another CGS briefing, March 5.

The dump’s location also opens the hamlet to greater risk of hazards from polar bears, she said.

The dodgy state of hockey arenas was a sticking point in two communities. Officials from Pond Inlet highlighted that they are still awaiting permanent fixes on concrete flooring and electrical systems in their two-year-old arena, described as being “in a constant need of repair.”

The hamlet’s SAO closed the facility for the winter until emergency lighting systems are brought back on-line.

Lam acknowledged CGS knows of the problems, and staff are “continually doing inspections” to maintain safety.

Hall Beach’s mayor, Peter Siakuluk, said his hamlet’s arena has several safety hazards, including faulty Plexiglas around the playing surface and a spectators’ section that “gets covered with snow.”

A big hole between the men’s and women’s washrooms also needs repair, he said.

Larger installations of transportation infrastructure, such as airports, breakwaters and harbours, also ranked high among the hamlets’ concerns.

Officials from the territorial government’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation were on hand to remind participants that these projects depend on federal funds.

Robert Long, deputy minister of ED&T began his presentation with a promise that the government is working on a “20-year capital plan on airport infrastructure,” which seeks to upgrade all such facilities throughout the territory.

“It’s our plan to table that in the spring legislature,” he told Baffin mayors.

The department has also marked construction of harbours as a priority, Long said.

Even though these are the federal government’s responsibility, he said the territorial government continues to lobby for new facilities to add to the small craft harbour in Pangnirtung, which opened last year.

“That was the first of seven identified as high-priority,” Long said. “Pond Inlet is on that list. And we as a government will now be lobbying the federal government for the next one or two, maybe even six of them.”

Rounding out mayors’ concerns was the lack of qualified staff to carry out work at municipalities, including mechanics to maintain vehicles, as well as qualified office personnel.

Clyde River mayor Jerry Natanine, who served as vice-chair for the forum, highlighted a concern about hiring procedures.

His hamlet suffered a worst-case scenario two to three years ago, he said, when an individual hired as senior administrative officer allegedly stole money from the hamlet.

“The problem was that there was no system of checking a potential employee’s past,” Natanine said. “There’s no way to be sure they are who they say they are, and that’s what I was trying to say to CGS.”

He put the question directly to minister Sammurtok and two CGS deputy ministers on day two of the forum, March 5.

“Municipalities are responsible for your own hiring, your own dismissal and your own staff discipline,” replied Darren Flynn, assistant deputy minister of community support.

“It does happen from time to time, that people who have had issues elsewhere, resurface somewhere else.”

CGS could, at best, offer advice in the hiring process, he said, “but you won’t get a blacklist from us, because we don’t have a blacklist.”

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