By Dan Davidson
A major incident at Dawson’s new Wastewater Treatment Plant has left the town’s administration convinced that the plant is not working properly and that there is no way it will be ready for the City of Dawson to take over its operations and costs this coming August 22.
Norm Carlson, Super. of Public Works, reported that the system malfunctioned on February 2.
“The entire process train plugged up with sludge causing a significant amount of wastewater to flood the degritting room and pour out the doors into the adjacent parking lot,” he wrote in his report to council on February 12.
“This blockage caused the entire sanitary system in Dawson to back up. Public Works responded to the Corix operator’s call for help and together we managed to bring the situation under control.
“While such an incident has the potential to threaten the safety of our drinking wells, the prompt response of our staff maintained the wells’ safety.”
Carlson’s reports over the last several months have constantly stressed that he feels his staff has not been sufficiently trained on the workings of the plant, and he repeated that warning in this report.
Under the memorandum of understanding the plant was to be in operation for a year while Corix trained the locals to run it and determined what the actual operating costs, which have risen substantially since this project was first announced, would be.
Carlson reported that his regular appeals to the territorial government regarding the low level of training and the lack of “qualified and experienced resources (i.e. – Corix personnel) here in Dawson” have not resulted in any improvements in that situation six months into the acceptance testing period.
In Carlson’s opinion, running the plant through the winter, when dilution due to bleeders is at its highest and there is no flow from the many hotels that only operate in the summer, does not give a true picture of how the system should work.
“Passing most of the water licence parameters with weak winter wastewater does not necessarily mean that the plant is operating as intended, or that it will be able to address the increased sewage loading coming with spring. There are many unknowns ahead.”
City manager Jeff Renaud was even more blunt in speaking to council.
“The cause of that incident is still unknown,” he said, “and if we don’t know the cause it’s hard to know the proper correction to put in place at this point.”
The town is in an awkward position in that it holds the water licence involved, but the plant is being run by a third party (Corix) under a contract with the Yukon government. So while the town has to file all the paperwork, it isn’t actually in charge of the plant.
More to the point, Renaud says it doesn’t want to be in charge.
The whole point of the year of third party operation was to facilitate training and to determine actual O&M costs, he stressed.
“The superintendent and I are strongly of the opinion that this is the primary example right now of why the City of Dawson should not be taking over this plant in August.
“Our memorandum of agreement said that we would get one year or operations (which) does not mean one year of trying to figure out how to make it work, but one year of actually working.”
He advised council that it needs to tell the Minster of Highways and the Minister of Public Works that the plant is not ready to be transferred to the City of Dawson.
“At this point in time we don’t know that it works or what the operating costs are.”
Renaud has been taking the administrative route to try and resolve some of these issues, but he advised council that it was time for political discussions as well.
Council members were quick to commend the public works department for its prompt response.
Mayor Potoroka was particularly concerned that when the incident occurred, “the operator, the person who was supposed to know how to deal with the situation, didn’t know.”
While it was great that the public works department was able to respond and assist he wanted to get assurances that “when there is troubleshooting to be done there is actuallysome idea of what that looks like.
“When you have sewage spilling out your back door, that’s a major failure of your system.”