Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Landfill Fire & Its Effects

Last night, my husband and I went to the Ward 13 town hall meeting held by Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart regarding the landfill fire 2 weeks ago. It appears she's been wanting to deal with the fall out and has been getting some push-back because of jurisdictional issues. I don't understand this. Yes, the fire was on Tsuu T'ina land, but my house which is in Calgary - in ward 13 - was filled with thick smoke for a long time.  There wasn't a thing I could do about it.

I live about a kilometre and a half from 37th street S.W. I woke up at 4:00 am, the morning of February 8th after dreaming my house was on fire - thinking all of a sudden, my house is on fire! After determining everything was okay, I thought a neighbours' house was on fire. Great, I still have to evacuate. No, that's not it. So, what is it? I even called a friend of mine in Parkland to find out if she was smelling this smoke and sure enough, she was. Good start; I'm not having a stroke.

It took me searching the Internet and making phone calls until after 10:00 am to find out what was going on and it was in one small paragraph, but at least I knew. What I didn't know was how long this was going to last. The only saving grace was my husband was downtown. I don't have any respiratory issues but my husband does. I called my dad that day and he thought I was sick, that's how much this “5/10, moderate air quality” advisory was affecting even me.

I found what the air quality scale means. Moderate is suppose to be “Consider rescheduling strenuous activities” for the population at risk.  Are you kidding me? When that smoke was at it's thickest, stairs caused me a problem. Why didn't the Tsuu T'ina call the Calgary Fire Department? The fire may have lasted only hours instead of days.

At the time, and even now, it appeared the band administrators didn't take this fire very seriously. They seemed quite dismissive about the whole thing. When it was finally confirmed, the band said it could burn for upwards of 48 hours and it started spontaneously. They said it was controlled, it was just underground and hard to put out. To me, they should have called in more help than they did as a number of communities were covered in thick smoke. I, like many others sealed up my house as best I could. My husband went to work smelling of smoke. If it had burned for any longer, he would have had to get a hotel room. It was very close as it was.

Tsuu T'ina quite often talk about wanting to be good neighbours and they want us to be good neighbours. This fire and how it was handled is not by any means neighbourly. It was not merely inconvenient. It was a serious health and environmental hazard. Many people had to take precautions just so they could breathe. When even I feel the dry-lung, hacking, weeziness, I get very concerned for those who even have the slightest respiratory problem.

In the Calgary Herald, it said today that no Tsuu T'ina member was invited to the meeting. To me, if they were concerned and wanted to deal with this issue, they would have just shown up. Why do they need an invite? On Alderman Colley-Urquhart's site, it does say join us to talk about the Tsuu T'ina Landfill fire. I feel that's an implicit invitation. A woman from the reserve did show up. She said she wasn't sent nor was she invited. She spoke a little about the landfill, how it's not reserve garbage, how it's used by the city for materials not permitted in municipal landfills and how we need to cooperate. I know what she's trying to say but to be honest it should have come from someone else.

From what I understand, the landfill is suppose to be a Class III landfill, inert items only. That is hard to believe because of the smell that was emanating from the fire. Not only that, people who have used the landfill said they have witnessed companies dumping hazardous chemicals into that landfill. I personally don't have names because there is no absolute evidence, no photographs. I'm only repeating what others have said. Maybe if enough people say this, Environment Canada will go in and test for hazardous materials. If there isn't any, my bad for spreading rumours; if there is, something can be done about illegal dumping into a class III landfill.

This landfill hasn’t been licensed for three years.  So with that, how would one stop any kind of illegal dumping since it is a class III landfill?  According to what I've read, it's currently unlicensed because of unresolved issues and fees owed. What's sad is, this isn't the only unlicensed on reserve landfill. There are many throughout Canada. My question then becomes, what can we do about that? If anyone else anywhere did this, it would be shut down, fines owed, clean up, court time and things I can't even think of. I'm tired of Aboriginals getting away with so much. I'm Inuvialuit so I have no problem saying that. I myself have moved into the 21st century at the beginning of the 21st century. Maybe others should too.

Some people at the meeting came up with some good ideas. Since most people around here are familiar with the oil and gas industry, they took ideas from that industry. An Emergency Response Plan (or ERP) is obviously required so why not take from ones that have been created for the most extreme cases. That would also mean that a different ERP would need to be created for each part of the city and for different circumstances. Why not? I think it would help to have something printed in the home for different cases.  Designing ERP’s for Calgarians is tax money better spent than on mandatory art projects or an Airport Tunnel to nowhere.

This is not the first time a fire has happened on the reserve, this won't be the last. We do need to be good neighbours but a lack of communication, finger pointing and screaming about the past is not the way to go about it. If the Tsuu T'ina would take responsibility for what happened and be honest about it, then we could move forward and try to prevent this in the future, together. Being adversarial is going to get us nowhere. Get over the “us versus them”, get over the “reserve versus the city” and fix the problem, the symptoms and start on solutions.

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