A decision to reject the Yukon environmental watchdog’s advice to close the Old Crow dump has sparked a backlash in the community.
The fly-in village’s 256 citizens put their faith in the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, which recommended the solid waste facility to be closed early last March.
But the dump will stay open for another three years, the Environment Department decided later that month.
“We in the (lands) department—I can’t speak for the chief and council—are very disappointed with the decision document,” said a First Nation official who works closely with the dump.
“(The decision) does not recognize any of the our comments and it is totally contradictory to the YESAA board recommendations,” said the Vuntut Gwitchin government staffer, who did not want to be named for this article.
“(The decision) totally missed the boat,” he said.
The dump consists of scattered trash piles covering half a square kilometre.
Car batteries, paint cans and gasoline canisters are overflowing from the tiny wooden shed meant to protect them from rain exposure.
Streams of melting water have broken out inside the dump, flowing into the Porcupine River.
“As far as specifics go, it’s in a state of disarray,” said the official.
Old Crow burns a lot of its garbage, like most Yukon communities.
But nowadays there’s just too much to burn, and the piles keep growing.
The Liberal MLA for Old Crow has taken charge.
“My constituents were shocked (by the decision),” said Darius Elias.
Old Crow residents were worried all winter about the spring melt water running through the dump, said Elias.
“There’s a creek running right through this huge pile of waste and it’s flowing right beside hazardous waste,” he said. “It’s basically a mini-disaster area of the first order.”
Elias has written letters to the minister, spoken about it in the legislature and even sent damning pictures to the Environment Department.
“All to no avail,” he said.
A dump can’t be within 100 metres of a river or lake, according to the Environment Act’s solid waste regulations.
In Old Crow, snow-exposed batteries and leaking fuel tanks sit within 25 meters of the Porcupine River, said Elias.
“I tried to raise this issue before the spring melt,” he said. “Now all the water’s run through and it’s gone right into the Porcupine River.”
The burning chamber is within 50 metres of the water, he said.
“My constituents are pretty upset,” said Elias. “This would never be allowed to happen in Whitehorse.”
A pile of wood from torn-down houses has become a fire risk, he said.
“It’s a forest fire waiting to happen.”
A construction boom has created more garbage than usual in the isolated community, said Elias.
A few young people organize a recycling lift once a month and Air North flies it to Whitehorse for free, he said.
But the industrial and hazardous trash isn’t going anywhere.
“We need to move it and build a properly engineered waste facility,” said Elias.
The Dawson environmental assessment board office agreed.
“(The board) recommends to the decision body that the project not be allowed to proceed, as the designated office has determined that project will have significant adverse environmental and socioeconomic effects in or outside the Yukon that cannot be mitigated,” reads the decision document.
The Environment Department rejected the expertise, and opted instead to draw plans for work in 2012.
Environment Minister Elaine Taylor made the decision, said Elias.
That couldn’t be confirmed by press time.
Taylor’s out of the office until Monday, said spokesperson Roxanne Vallevand.
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