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Dawson chided for lagoon inaction

‘We can’t forget that as we discuss this court order today, the city is dumping its untreated sewage into the Yukon River,” said…

‘We can’t forget that as we discuss this court order today, the city is dumping its untreated sewage into the Yukon River,” said Crown Council John Cliffe.

“There’s one word that describes the view of the Crown and Environment Canada — disappointed.”

Thus went the latest installment in the five-year-old saga of Dawson City’s sewage lagoon.

The town struggled to explain why it could not comply with the court ordered project, which stemmed from Environment Canada discovering the town was pumping raw sewage into the salmon-bearing Yukon River.

A proposal to build a lagoon at the entrance to the town had been completed and submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

But Dawson residents fought the plan. They demanded a referendum, arguing they were not properly consulted on an unsightly, stinky project.

Dawsonites rejected the proposed location for the lagoon in the March vote.

Since then, nothing has been done, noted Cliffe on Tuesday.

Many options are being considered during the upcoming technical review, said Tony Crossman, the town’s attorney.

The city is also completing a financial review to find out where it is going to get more money.

A large portion of the funding was supposed to come from the Canadian Strategic Infrastructure Fund.

However, this program is slated to end in 2012 and the project is not likely to be completed until 2014.

The town’s assertion it will take up to 15 months to assess its new options is unacceptable, said Cliffe.

“There’s a history here and there’s been reports and many studies. The city should have had a contingency plan in place.”

He cited a transcript from a year ago in which Territorial Supreme Court Judge Heino Lilles specifically asked whether petitions may trigger a referendum.

At that time, Lilles asked the city to keep its options open.

The only alternative is a mechanical plant known as a sequencing batch reactor, said Cliffe.

“Someone has to bite the bullet here and say that is the route that we have to go down.”

A mechanical plant would cost well over $20 million to build and $730,000 per year to operate.

Currently, Ottawa and the Yukon government have committed only $17 million for the sewage treatment system.

Dawson will not be able to afford the operation costs, Dawson’s Mayor John Steins has said.

“Perhaps the Yukon Government has to reconsider and revisit its financial commitment so that the court order can be met in a timely fashion,” said Cliffe.

“Compliance is not conditional on funding from the federal government.

“This order has to be completed.”

The deadline in the original court order was December 2008.

This deadline will obviously have to be extended, and the court will discuss this when they reconvene on September 18.

“I think it’s important to remember that this situation was not caused by the city of Dawson,” said Crossman.

“It has been diligent in trying to stick to the court order.”

“How do we know that a new proposal won’t run into the same problem?” asked Cliffe.

“What are you going to do differently to ensure there is no further delay?”

Judge Lilles agreed with Crown council.

“The SBR plant alternative needs to be pursued aggressively alongside other options,” he said.

“By the end of September there should be at least as much information about the SBR plant as any other option.

“City won’t be allowed to proceed with just one proposal.”

During the planning stage,16 individual sites were identified and looked at, said Lilles.

“You would have thought it would be rather easy to see two or three as viable.”

“Very little appears to have been done since the referendum,” he added.

“Things are going to have to be sped up.”

The city has been totally committed to solving the problem, said Steins.

“We’re trying to find a sustainable solution.”

The city will take a different approach to the consultation process in the future to ensure that it doesn’t find itself in a similar situation.

“We are five years done the road,” said Cliffe.

“And today it’s obvious that we are no further ahead than that day in March 2003.”

“No defendant in Canada has received this level of leniency — not any individual, corporation or municipality,” said Lilles.

“Should there be another hiccup, there will be a mechanical plant option ready to go.”