Monday, March 5, 2012

Leaving Rankin Inlet

Yesterday was a travel day.  We had a slow start, spending most of the morning packing up and hanging around.  We met Arnie for lunch and then he took us to the airport for the journey out.  Jim had some extra packing to do.  He had a frozen Arctic Char to transport home.  It will be a real treat to enjoy once he gets it home.  ...Another opportunity that came about through Arnie's connections.  We all loved Char.  The meat is a lot like salmon but the texture is lighter and the taste is a little sweeter -- very yummy.

On our way up to Rankin Inlet we were amused by an inuit fellow who could not believe the trees he was seeing as we hit Yellowknife.  He kept exclaiming, 'trees!', 'trees!'  There were so many, it was hard for him to fathom.  I felt a similar feeling as we were touching down in Winnipeg, checking out the landscape and seeing the more familiar trees and lakes was a big comfort.  I didn't feel it as much in Rankin, but the bleakness of snow and cold was wearing on me.  I looked at Dwayne and said, 'trees!', 'trees!'.

One thing that struck me about the environment up there was that every venture outside of shelter took consideration and planning.  I began to watch everyone who would show up in our small cafe.  Even the young people were dressed warmly.  I noticed it the most with women.  In Alberta most women do not wear overpants and long underwear isn't often a consideration.  At times we head out with only nylons covering our legs.  Our footwear is also problematic.  We tend to wear shoes or stylish boots that have no insulating value at all.  Not the case in Rankin Inlet.  I noticed that many women wore insulated pants or track pants under their long jackets.  Their stylishness was apparent in the beautiful parkas they wore.  Most were adorned with lace, fringe, decals or bright complimentary colours. 

The other consideration for excursions was how unreliable vehicles were at the cold temperatures.  The town garbage truck lost a starter in the first few days we were up.  Garbage pickup stopped.  We found a truck's universal joint on the middle of the road during our walk to the restaurant.  Many vehicles -- snowmobiles or trucks, would get stuck in town and groups of people would get out to push.

A snowstorm could truly threaten the town.  We could see evidence of the accounts we heard.  A number of residences had cleared paths in the fronts of their homes with the layers of snow cover evident.  The snow was thick and hard, and some layers were up to 2 ft thick.  Arnie talked about snow storms that came in so hard the houses would be covered.  Water and fuel delivery would be stopped short until enough snow could be cleared to get to everyone.  Not the same as the snow we see hear.  The winds from the Hudson's Bay practically pack the snow down as it falls.  Arnie called it perfect igloo-making snow.  There was no crust with a soft inside like we might see -- it was all crust.

I enjoyed the sound it made when I walked, your steps echoed through the snow and you could tell when the thickness changed because there was a 'hollow' sound in some spots.  The snow had a bluish tinge as the shadows of the day moved through the town.  Very beautiful but almost impossible to capture on camera because colour differences were so small.

More to come in a few weeks.  Many of our participants have been to Edmonton but there are a couple who have not ventured south very often.  I'm excited to see their impression of Edmonton, but also a little worried about them.  We encouraged them to stick close to each other when they were out in the evenings.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Meat of It

Another short post today... 

Thursday was a full day of 'what to do with'.  We explored the options for storage and disposal/recycling across most of the hazardous waste categories. 

A few of the landfill operators have worked on crews that cleaned up mine sites within their local areas.  This experience exposes them to good hazardous waste management practices and different types of technology.  The Resolute Bay mine clean up project used a high efficiency incinerator that was used to burn hazardous wastes.  The group had many questions about how something like this might work.  While we had answers around how it could be possible, we definitely couldn't tell them how effective the incinerator was, or the likelihood of a solution like that gaining approval for more general use.

Another individual saw waste oil being burned in an open pit at a mine site.  The company had been contracted to do it and they used compressors to feed oxygen to the fire.  Again, we couldn't give them any indication that these solutions would be effective or acceptable from a regulatory perspective.

Their biggest question and concern is in regard to shipment of these wastes to an acceptable disposal or recycling site.  They refer to the task of finding receivers to be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

All municipalities have a requirement for a clear emergency plan.  In the represented northern communities these plans seem to include risk potentials at the landfill.  Everyone in the class could indicate who they would call in the event of an emergency, and how they would proceed in a fire or major spill situation.  Many had actively worked with their local conservation officers to resolve community issues already.

Federal Coast Guards seem to keep spill clean up caches in most northern seaside communities.  These caches are accessible by local RCMP and all course participants knew they could use this equipment in the event that they faced a major clean up.

The only question that wasn't easily resolved in this area was recordkeeping around the volume of chemical types stored on the site.  While many communities had a rough idea, this information was rarely written down.

The weather has slowed down our socializing.  The cold wind cuts through everything and exposed skin is painful.  The wind was at our backs as we were walking back from a local restaurant last night and I was sure my calf muscles were seizing in response to the cold.  I have a new appreciation for warm weather gear.  My sorels are the best investment ever.

Jim and Dwayne took Arnie up on a tour about town.  Their tour extended a little further than anticipated... Jim bumped his head on the door jamb getting into the truck, opening up a gash.  The bleeding was bad enough that they headed to the local health centre where he was stitched up.  Jim was well taken care of and the tour and evening proceeded normally.  The guys headed down to the Hudson's Bay and Dwayne was excited that he stood on the Bay.  I was sorry I passed up the chance.  We all headed out to a local restaurant to try a local delicassy... a good feeding of Arctic Char.  It is a lot like salmon but the meat is more delicate and the taste is richer.

I'll find out for sure today but this trip to Edmonton will be a first for many of our participants.  They were amazed at the size of the 3 story apartment buildings in Rankin, so I am curious about how Edmonton hits them.  They are interested in the hockey game and the mall.  They all expressed excitement about the practical experiences they would have at the sites in Edmonton. 

Today there is a craft market at the local arena.  We are hoping to make it there to gain a sense of some of the local craftsmanship.  Many of the ladies in the community sew jackets for their whole families.  The coats are thick, expertly sewn and usually include fur pieces at the hood or the wrists.  That fur is decorative in the south.  In this northern weather it's functionality is clear -- it's a good windbreak that protects exposed skin.

More tomorrow... I promise!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In the Heart of It

I slept in this morning... this will be short!

Yesterday brought us into the heart of the hazardous waste material.  Our final chemical sorting activity was evidence that our group was coming along with us... and that's good news!  Identification and categorization of hazardous waste products is a lot like learning English.  There are a few rules to follow... but lots of exceptions.  There is nothing more challenging than introducing people to a 'common approach' and then let them know that there are times when your 'common approach' can't work...  Yikes!  I feel good that they will also be considering this when they take the IMDG training and then again at the Eco-Station in a concrete way. 

We are beginning to get great questions.  I was on the internet last night (slow as molasses, so it took awhile!) researching ways to recycle used oil.  One of the participants said a local resident was 'cleaning it up' to be used again and he wanted to know the possibilities in that area.  I found an answer... it's possible but the quality of the oil could be a concern.  They identified that their oil is 'tainted' with water and glycol so the owner of the used oil heater doesn't want to take it.

Today we are digging into Handling and Management, our heaviest section.  The good news is that it's also the most interactive.  I'm looking forward to a lot of questions today.

I found the fitness facility last night, I ran off some steam.  It felt good.  Jeff, the landfill operator from Iqaluit is in town today.  He was in contact with Jim.  His son is playing hockey at the local arena.  His son is close to my son's age -- either 2nd year bantams or 1st year midget and he plays on Nunavut's competitive AAA team.  It should be fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Getting Started

The participants didn't know where we were or what time we were starting.  That's just a small detail... lol!

We saw a small town in action and by 9am everyone arrived who would be coming for the day.  Someone, somewhere in Rankin was able to direct them to the right spot.  We expected 16 and saw 14.  We heard that 2 individuals may have faced travel issues because one of First Air's jets needed repair up north and everything got bumped around.  No one knew if they might show up late or if they may not come at all.  I imagine I will see them tomorrow if they are coming.

Today was our chance to get to know the communities.  Most of our morning was filled with discussion about the infrastructure, issues and trends that influenced their roles within the community.  We spent the afternoon introducing solid waste concepts and good landfill practices.

My insights from the morning's discussion:
  • Concern for the issues and community involvement in finding solutions is alive in many small communities.  Cambridge Bay was facing public concern over a very large and unsightly dump site.  They accomplished change with the help of many volunteer hours from their community members.  People came out to build, clean and support any way they could. 
  • In a northern environment it is very challenging to do all the 'right' things.  Landfill cover is a good example.  Sometimes good cover (crushed rock, soil) is not available and needs to be made by crushing rock.  This solution is too costly for some communities to bear.
  • Polar bear control is an issue.  The bears are attracted to the landfill sites.  It's illegal and dangerous for them to feed at the landfill.  Fencing is not effective to stop them.  Some communities are burning landfill waste in an effort to deter the bears.  Not the best situation, but better than the alternative.
  • Historical problems are difficult to solve... some communities have commercial or industrial waste onsite that was received in the past with no way to identify it.
  • Many landfills are uncontrolled.
We hopped on a school bus at 3pm and headed out to Rankin's dump site for a tour.  The tour went quickly enough that Arnie included a tour of town for everyone.  It was well appreciated, and a first for some.  The tour was a bit of a challenge... the windows kept frosting up so it was tough to see out.  The guys pulled cards out of their wallets and used them to clean the windows every few minutes... where there is a will, there is a way.

One of the fellows promised me he would teach me to sea kayak... I would love to do it!  I said I heard you couldn't go out until you learned to do a roll... he asked, you mean an 'eskimo roll'?  He laughed and said, no, you don't want to do that if you don't have to...  I knew there was something off about the thought as soon as it came out of my mouth... I can't imagine anyone would want to get wet out here.  Another fellow let me know that you would end up rolling if you were too stiff -- but if you kept a flexible body, you wouldn't have trouble.  My 'teacher' takes his kayak out hunting.  He says he hunts seal, bow whale and even polar bear...  I asked him how he would get a polar bear home on his kayak.  He said he would work day and night...  I assume that means many trips?  I think I'll ask him more about that tomorrow...

Arnie said the biggest polar bears live out on the ice.  They wander around the edge of the flow where they can find seal and they rarely come in to land.

I was reading the paper up here today.  Roald Amundsen, an early northern explorer, credited his time in Gjoa Haven for giving him the skills to make it through the Northwest Passage.  The more chances I get to chat, the more I realize that there is a true 'art' required to embrace life in these northern communities.  The fellow from Gjoa Haven spoke of their seasons as -- the 'light' and 'dark' season.  When he mentioned that we were heading into the time of 'light' his face lit up in a way that expressed true joy.

Jim took some pictures today, I'll post them tomorrow.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Arrival & Getting Climatized

We arrived this afternoon at 1:40pm.  The flights worked out well -- for anyone ever heading this way -- First Air serves HOT MEALS, I haven't had a hot meal on a plane for so long I can't remember when!  All our boxes arrived without a hiccup.  It was a relief for me because I needed to identify some as 'excess' when we checked in, it was hard to say what I was OK to go without and once I had I regretted it.  Jim even brought his guitar and it was the first thing unloaded -- not a scratch...

We met the crew from Cambridge Bay at the airport, very friendly!  They saw Dwayne's jacket and introduced themselves to us.  Mike said we have representation from the two most northern communities in Nunavut in our course...  Gjoa Haven and Resolute Bay.

Arnie, the Utility Foreman for Rankin Inlet picked us up at the airport, took us to the hotel, then the fire hall (where the training will take place) and then on a guided tour of the whole town -- including the landfill, of course.

Ambrose is the fire chief and he has offered to make us coffee and bring in cookies each morning.  Although he was a bit surprised by our arrival, he didn't hesitate and was ready to accomodate anything we needed.  The room will be perfect -- it's spacious and equipped with everything we need.

The town of Rankin has over 2000 people and 847 vehicles.  Many people use all terrain vehicles or snowmobiles as their primary means of transportation.  It seems weird for snowmobiles to plow along the main street amongst the cars... but why not?

The town has an underground utilidor serving water to a large section of the community.  Unlike Iqaluit, Rankin has a little more topsoil, gravel and crushed rock around.  The utilidor is contructed from a material that has some flexibility in order to deal with shifts in the permafrost.

Tomorrow we will be talking about the landfill in each of the communities attending (12) and touring Rankin's landfill with the participants.  I can't wait to hear more about the conditions everyone faces.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Municipal Hazardous Waste - 2 in Rankin Inlet

Here we go again!

The Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence is working with the Municipal Training Organization and the Department of Environment for Nunavut to bring Municipal Hazardous Waste Training to municipalities across the north.  This time 16 individuals from 12 northern communities will participate in 11 days of training -- 5 in Rankin Inlet and 6 in Edmonton, where they will explore methods to manage hazardous waste within their community landfills.

Jim Lapp, Dwayne Christenson and myself (Colleen Starchuk) will head to Rankin Inlet tomorrow.  Training participants will venture to Edmonton for the 2nd phase of their training experience on March 25.

While we can never be sure until we begin discussions, the training team recognizes that 'waste management' in these remote communities is a different ballgame than it is in the south.  As we found out from our last trek, a rocky land mass, limited shipping opportunities and year round ground frost are just some of the factors that make 'typical' methods impossible.

As before, the only thing we can all be sure of is that this northern trek will provide us as much learning as we are hoping to provide.  Our last foray exposed us to rich culture, a strong sense of community and greater perspective about the challenges of supporting a remote community.

More to come as the adventure unfolds...