ARCHIVED - Pelly Calamity Prevented

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An ecological disaster on the pristine Pelly River in the Yukon was averted recently, thanks to the actions of staff from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and information provided by a member of the local First Nation community.

The Pelly River, a canoeing, rafting and camping paradise. (Photo by: INAC, Yukon Region)

During the summer of 2009, a member of the Selkirk First Nation reported seeing numerous oil barrels on the edge of the Pelly River. The river connects to the Yukon River, continues north past Dawson City, through Alaska and out into the Beaufort Sea. It's an area that attracts fishing and water sport enthusiasts.

When INAC's regional waste management team heard about the barrels, they flew in by helicopter to assess the situation. They found rusting barrels of diesel and naphtha fuel, containing about 10,000 litres of diesel fuel. That's enough to fill 200 bath tubs.

The barrels had been exposed and moved by ice and water during the spring breakup. However, it was estimated that the barrels had actually been lying in the area for about 25 years. The team figured there was a very high probability that ice and water would crush the barrels and release the fuel into the river. So it was crucial that the barrels be removed before winter set in.

Barrels slung by chopper from the Pelly River. (Photo by: INAC, Yukon Region)

"It was a challenging clean-up," said project officer Clayton Dyck. "Many of the barrels were so tangled in the trees that we needed chainsaws to remove them."

The barrels had to be rolled into a large net, lifted out by helicopter and then taken to a nearby gravel pit. There, the fuel was pumped into new barrels. Twenty-seven barrels of fuel were recovered and provided to the Selkirk First Nation community.

Fred Green, Acting Director of Lands and Resources for Selkirk First Nation helped distribute the fuel, which was used by the community for heating during the winter. "We are very pleased that our community could benefit both environmentally and financially with this important clean-up effort," says Green. After the fuel was used the old, empty barrels were taken back to Whitehorse and disposed of at a proper waste facility.

The project was completed with $32,500 of funding provided through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's (INAC) Waste Management Program.

The Pelly River clean-up is one of many contaminated sites remediated by INAC since the Waste Management Program started in the early 1990s. The program initially identified 906 known small and medium-sized contaminated sites in the Yukon and has now cleaned up over 90 per cent of them. The remainder are expected to be remediated by 2015. Kudos to the team!

Waste Management Team – (L to R) Clayton Dyck, Janelle Langlais, Werner Liebau, Shawana Williams, Brett Hartshorne (missing from photo Rick Seaman and the many summer students that participated in the program. (Photo by: INAC, Yukon Region)


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