First Nation proposes solution to Dawson’s stinky problem

DAWSON CITY Troubled by plans to build a sewage-treatment lagoon above the town’s water supply, the Trondek Hwech’in First Nation is…


Troubled by plans to build a sewage-treatment lagoon above the town’s water supply, the Trondek Hwech’in First Nation is suggesting an alternate site on its settlement land.

“I have not heard very many people support the current location, even though they think that the science may work — which I don’t necessarily agree with yet — they think that the location is poor,” said Otto Cutts, executive director for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.

“I think most people do not agree with that location, because they are concerned about it being above their water supply and it’s at the doorstep of the entrance to our historical village.”

The Yukon government has proposed building a sewage lagoon at the entrance to Dawson City.

In April, it had set aside $14 million for the project.

The cost would be split 50-50 with Ottawa, $7 million coming from the territory and $7 million coming from the Canadian Infrastructure Fund.

But residents are afraid the sewage lagoon, which is scheduled to be built in 2008, will destroy the town’s gold rush character, which it relies on for tourism.

Currently, the town’s sewage is pumped directly into the Yukon River without any secondary treatment.

But Ottawa insists it stop that process and modernize its sewage treatment system.

In fact, Environment Canada obtained a court order forcing Dawson to fix its sewage problem as quickly as possible.

The town is in violation of the federal Fisheries Act and has been for quite some time, Dawson City mayor John Steins told the Association of Yukon Communities’ annual general meeting on Friday.

But we always got a water license from the water board on the condition that sometime soon Dawson would fix its sewage problem, he added.

“Various things have happened over this period of time and let’s just suffice to say that things came to a head involving YTG and past city administrations,” said Steins at the meeting.

In 2004, amid a financial collapse of the town, its mayor and council were fired. After that, the town was ruled by a government-appointed trustee for two years.

In 2006, elections were held and Steins was acclaimed mayor.

Through it all, the sewage treatment woes continued.

“Things did come to a head and the whole affair ended up in court, we ended up being charged by Environment Canada and they have aggressively, for the last few years, pursued a solution here in town to satisfy Environment Canada regulations in regards to how we treat and deal with our sewage,” said Steins during the weekend meeting, which was held in Dawson.

During its general assembly, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in consulted its members and has come up with a solution to the ongoing sewage problem.

Instead of building the lagoon at the entrance to Dawson, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have decided to offer up some of its land at the bench, south of town.

It is currently in the initial phase of negotiating with the Yukon government to have Dawson’s lagoon built on its land.

“They have offered what they believe to be a different solution to this problem,” said Steins. “Unfortunately it has little to do with the city of Dawson. It has more to do with their negotiations with the government, and it’s my understanding that they are pursuing this other option with the government.”

In June 2005, the government came to Dawson and selected four spots that would be suitable for a sewage lagoon.

One of those spots was on Tr’ondek Hwech’in land and, at the time, the First Nation said they would rather see the lagoon built elsewhere.

The lot the government is now considering wasn’t one of those four options, so the Tr’ondek Hwech’in has decided to renegotiate with the territory.

“The concern about the water supply was one of the main issues,” said Cutts.

“The location, as it is presented, is on the front, coming right into Dawson. We have some commercial property right across the street.

“Some of the citizens want to build bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and convenience stores and that’s a concern of theirs, so there’s a number of concerns.”

Cutts is not convinced the science behind an aerated sewage lagoon, like the one proposed for Dawson, is sound enough to eliminate noxious odours.

Aerated lagoons pipe oxygen bubbles into the pond to speed up sewage processing.

“Our elders are concerned about the long-term safety of our water supply,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in chief Darren Taylor.

“Building the lagoon on Tr’ondek Hwech’in land would calm any worries about sewage seeping into our drinking water.”