Ten years after a state-of-the-art gasification burner was installed in the tiny community of Old Crow, the machine awaits repairs and domestic garbage smoulders in a nearby metal container.
In 2012, the News reported that the days of Old Crow disposing of its trash in a burning vessel were over and that a new high-tech solution had been found for Old Crow’s garbage problem. Waste to Energy Canada, a private corporation, had sold gasification systems across the North as a perfect solution for isolated communities.
Dave Albisser doesn’t remember exactly when the gasifier stopped working, but thought it was just after he started his job in community operations with the Yukon’s department of Community Services in 2017 or 2018.
He said it was sometime around then that something in the gasifier exploded and took out the big burner, knocking out the whole waste disposal system.
“And we’ve been working on it ever since,” he told the News Feb. 20.
“We tried patching it, it didn’t take properly so we have to redo a bunch of work inside the burner and then get that burner replaced and get a bunch of other things up and running.”
This means it’s been back to the burning vessel for Old Crow, for at least five years now.
Albisser said efforts to contact Waste to Energy Canada failed and eventually they realized the company had folded. As he tells it, they found a fellow in the United States that could fix it. Then COVID-19 hit, and the option for a cross-border contractor went up in smoke.
“It’s a very complicated piece of machinery. So, we actually have to get specialized individuals in there to look after it.”
Now he thinks he has found a Canadian solution.
“We’re working with several consultants — an electrical engineer and a controls guy and the burner mechanic and getting all these different pieces operational to make sure we can get it back online in the summer.”
The saga of the Old Crow dump is long-standing and well-documented. According to the News,the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board recommended closure in 2009 citing its proximity to the Porcupine River; then the Yukon Party government over-ruled that recommendation; the gasifier was purchased in 2012; a full-time attendant was hired in 2014 and garbage was sorted and piled; and test wells were drilled to monitor groundwater.
“We’ve taken hazardous waste out over the last couple of years, including electronic waste and waste oil. So we divert all that material,” Albisser said. “That’s kind of our priority.”
Burning garbage ended in all unincorporated communities in 2012 except for Old Crow. The garbage there would be incinerated in the gasifier at incredibly high temperatures which produce almost a vapour.
For five years now, depending on the winds, smoke wafts over the tiny village, with the old familiar smell of burning garbage.
A huge pile of construction waste from a wave of major building activity is stockpiled nearby the burning vessel. The construction waste cell accidentally caught fire earlier this year. Community Services spokesperson Echo Ross reported that “thankfully, the fire was quickly contained and extinguished.”
The construction waste piles will sit until spring.
“We just crush it down and try and manage the material into big cells. And then in the summertime, when there’s access to dirt, we then cover up that material,” Albisser said.
The waste management site is tightly constrained by the river, a creek, an airport and a road that passes by a lagoon.
“It’s quite small for the community’s needs,” Albisser said. He said the department has done three or four reports to study the situation.
“There’s not really many other options,” he said.
By Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 08, 2023 at 15:08