Iqaluit’s dump fire could cost up to $5M to put out

Iqaluit’s dump has been burning for six weeks now. A landfill expert who flew into the city says the time to put it out is now, before it gets even hotter, but the price tag is a hefty one.

Soaking the burning dump piece by piece would cost $50,000 to $60,000 a day

A close-up view of Iqaluit's dump fire on June 26, 2014. The fire has been burning since May 20, forcing schools to close and even smoking out a planned city cleanup. The city is now considering options for putting it out, but the cost is daunting. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

A landfill expert says putting out Iqaluit's dump fire could cost between $3 and $5 million.

Dr. Tony Sperling flew to Iqaluit to offer his advice on the fire that’s been burning for six weeks now.

He recommends a “controlled overhaul.”

“Which basically means you dig out all the garbage, you get it really wet, and then you recompact it and cover it with dirt,” he told city council at a special meeting Monday night.

Unfortunately, that comes with a hefty price tag. Soaking the big pile would cost between $50,000 and $60,000 a day, or an estimated $3.5 million.

“The actual cost will depend on duration,” Sperling said.

When the fire first flared up in May 20, Iqaluit City council agreed to let the dump fire burn. On June 11, after smoke from the fire had closed schools and caused a planned community cleanup to be postponed, they reversed that decision. 

Now councillors are asking where the money to put the fire out will come from. The city’s 2013 budget was just over $40 million.

"If the possibility exists that we can't get any third-party funding from any level of government or any external organization then we have to go back into our own internal financial resources,” says John Hussey, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer. “It would require a special council meeting dealing with the budget."

To pay for the fire, Hussey laid out options, such as a municipal hiring freeze, cutting back on spending and reducing capital projects.

He says whatever happens, the city will need a plan, and soon, because city council wants to put the fire out right away.

Let's act now

Sperling gave another reason for putting the fire out as soon as possible.

"The longer we let that fire sort of sit there, the hotter it's getting and the more difficult it's going to be to extinguish at the end of the day, so doing everything quick and working together, I think, is really critical."

Sperling says the fire is deep-seated and he's seen the controlled overhaul approach work in the past. However, he warned that fires are unpredictable, and putting it out could take some time.

Sperling is working with a team of people representing various territorial and federal government agencies, as well as the Iqaluit fire department.

He says it's important to have the public's support before any decisions are made.


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