Hay River dump fire confirmed the obvious

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There are really no lessons the Town of Hay River can learn from last month’s fire at the landfill site.

That’s because all the lessons – i.e. problems – have been well known for many years and the fire just made them more obvious.

The fire, which was noticed on March 3 and burned to March 28, was an unpleasant and costly reminder – about $608,000 as of April 4 – that the dump is a sleeping giant of a problem, even after the fire.

The first obvious problem: it is an old landfill that needs to be replaced. We first heard that concern raised at town council many years ago, and still we have an old landfill that needs to be replaced.

The town always has a lot of issues, and sometimes it seems that creating a new landfill can always be delayed a few more years. We can’t blame the town for that. Can you imagine the regulatory requirements – not to mention the outrage from environmentally-minded folk in the NWT – if a new dump was proposed somewhere around Hay River? Serious consideration and the inevitable environmental studies for a new dump would take years.

The second obvious problem: the dump is too close to the Town of Hay River and too close to the River of Hay River. The recent fire illustrated that quite nicely, as smoke with that distinct dump smell occasionally wafted over town, and caused the NWT’s Chief Public Health Officer to issue a health advisory. Plus, the town had to take extraordinary and expensive measures to ensure that none of the water runoff from the firefighting effort made its way into the river.

The third obvious problem: there is a collection of 500 tonnes of old tires at the dump. Mercifully, those tires were not impacted by the recent fire, or there might still be a haze of smoke surrounding us.

The town very wisely decided – even before the fire – that a recycling effort is needed to remove the tires. It allocated $500,000 for that project in this year’s capital budget, including an applied-for $375,000 from the federal government.

The only drawback to that recycling idea is that one of the goals is to extend the life of the dump, which will leave it where it is for a longer period of time.

The fourth obvious problem: people simply create too much garbage. Despite all of the advances made in recycling in recent years, an amazing amount of junk is generated by each of us every year, especially in the developed world, and it has to go somewhere.

That planetary problem is not going to be solved as a spinoff from dealing with the landfill in Hay River, but we should all think about what we buy, how it is packaged and whether it can be recycled or likely to end up at the landfill. That awareness might help a bit.

Obviously, we are always going to be stuck with dumps, and with that will come the threat of fire. The most we can do is mitigate the danger.

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