Benefits for the Inuvialuit Community
In addition to restoring the land, the focus throughout the project has been to ensure the Inuvialuit community derives benefit from it. “We have worked with local contractors, businesses and individuals on every aspect of the project from the outset,” says project director, Lenz Haderlein. “During the summer we have around 40 folks in camp on site at any one time, of which at least two thirds are Inuvialuit. We have also been collaborating closely with the local regulators and Water Board as well as engaging with the local people, keeping them informed through regular public consultations.”
The remediation works have included marine shore stabilization and the restoration of a dock, a long-term benefit for the locals to use for fishing, storage and other purposes. Further improvements for seafarers include the removal of wooden pilings from another old dock that were presenting a navigational hazard.
The community is also making good use of the concrete that was left on site. Climate change and rising sea levels are causing coastal erosion and increasing flooding in the village of Tuktoyaktuk. With local support, rather than dispose of the concrete we have been cutting it into slabs to haul over to the village to create flood defences.
Reducing climate risks
Working in such a remote area in the Canadian Arctic presents many challenges, particularly in the context of climate change and the necessity to preserve the precious, but fragile, tundra environment.
Protecting permafrost is critical, since any damage to permafrost has serious environmental implications. Already vulnerable due to global warming, permafrost is essential to maintain the stability of the tundra ecosystems yet is itself a significant contributor to global climate change if it melts. Permafrost also takes a long time to repair itself from physical disturbance.
A rigorous permafrost protection plan is in place throughout the excavation effort, covering and protecting the permafrost with clean soil as soon as impacted soil and debris is removed.
Another key consideration has been to dispose of contaminated soil in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. At least one third of the soil impacted with hydrocarbons was amenable to bioremediation thanks to the long summer days, with 24 hours of sunshine.
However, the rest of the soil cannot be remediated on site. Sending it to landfill was considered the most practical and efficient method of disposal in the first year of the project. A number of trips were made to the nearest suitable landfill site – 2,300 kilometres away. “It just wasn’t sustainable,” says Lenz. “They’d load the soil bags onto the truck, wave goodbye to the driver, and he’d come back for his next load seven days later. He’d driven for three days to the landfill, and three days back, a round trip of 4,600 kilometres by truck in winter conditions. And it wasn’t just wrong from a carbon emissions perspective. The haulage contractors required the soil be bagged up for transportation, which increased worker exposure time to risk, so there were also health and safety implications for the workers.”
The solution is for the construction of a local Invialuit landfill site and work is currently underway to gain the appropriate permissions, including consultations with the community. Disposing the impacted soil at the new landfill will reduce the GHG by ten-fold compared to the initial solution.