Wednesday, March 13, 2024

City Council explores range of themes towards Eagles Deaths at City Landfill site

The recent disclosure of the deaths of 19 eagles at the newly opened liquid waste component of the Ridley Island Road landfill site, made for one of the longer discussion segments from Monday's City Council session.

We outlined the background to the incident earlier this month, following a civic statement towards the deaths of the birds.

City of Prince Rupert Statement outlines details of incident at Ridley Island Road Landfill resulting in wildlife deaths 

Prince Rupert Eagle deaths at landfill site gain notice across British Columbia 

Monday night, Councillor Nick Adey took the lead in trying to share more information with the public on the incident, which including observations on how the iconic birds are significant to First Nations culture in the region. Noting how they had perished either by freezing or drowning after a deleterious substance was released into the septige facility.

Some of the key questions posed by the Councillor involved issues of the city's compliance with regulatory requirements at the facility.

"Is prior to the incident did the existing liquid waste pond conform to existing standards ...  if it didn't conform why not and if so what were the gaps in the existing regulations that allows this to happen?"

In response the City Manager advised that the facility complied with existing standards and that it conformed noting of some actions the city plans to take.

"We will be doing more work there to help prevent such a thing in the future, but it conformed to the standards"

A follow up question from the Councillor related to how the city addresses the use of the facility by third parties, brought some background on the facility and the city's approach to third parties.

"It's a facility for processing liquid waste, commonly known as septige ... There is no contractual arrangement under our current scheme with users of the facility, it is a regulatory relationship. 

The regulations are set out in a bylaw and people are expected to comply with the bylaw.

We may be amending that in the future, because the way it is right now, is people that use it have to inform themselves, a contractual arrangement forces the awareness a little more effectively perhaps"

Mr. Adey followed up with a question related to commentary in the community towards potential punitive consequences towards the incident, asking where the City was towards that.

City Manager Buchan outlined the steps that the city could take.

"There is a provision in the bylaw for fining, punitive and that's a matter that we have not yet addressed because we have been working on  understanding  what has happened and what was put in.

We're well along on that now so with respect of deciding if there's a punitive aspect to this, that's something that we may consult with council.  

If that's something that council wants us to look at and if we do that we may have to bring that back to an appropriate council venue"

Mayor Pond asked the City Manager towards the progress of the investigation, with Mr. Buchan noting that the process was not yet complete.

Councillor Cunningham noted of the involvement of both Federal and Provincial regulators in that investigation.

That led to a question from Councillor Adey towards what measure are being taken towards  avoiding future incidents.

Towards that inquiry, Mr. Buchan outlined the civic  process so far. 

"I can advise that staff are going to be revising the bylaw, partly in response to this, it was due for an update anyways. but with this occurrence we'll be turning our mind specifically to how to best safeguard against a similar event occurring in the future, so that it doesn't" 

As for specific physical changes to the site to address the incident, Operations Director Richard Pucci explained what work was underway.

"Right now we are working with McElhanney on bird protection, bird controls to go over the top of the facility before we open it up. We are also looking  at cameras, we are looking at new controls in the scale house and ensuring that we have better contractual obligations between the users through the bylaws.

So all of those will be addressed and submitted to Environment Canada and the Ministry of Environment as part of the order that we have" 

The last element for Council's review of the incident was to note of the significance of eagles to First Nations culture and a question related to the consultation process that was taken by the city.

"This has to do with the cultural significance of eagles to First Nations peoples and the unfortunate loss of nineteen eagles as a result of this incident. 

So my questions are as a result what steps are being taken to work with First Nations in response to this incident and second  to establish an understanding that will inform  any future incident that has similar cultural implications" 

Director Pucci, noted of the civic engagement to this  point from the incident.

"So this is the first incident of this kind that we've had, so you know I hope everyone appreciates that. Our liquid waste facility or sepitage facility. has only been open for six months. 

We've never had one in the past so it's new for us. 

We've already been in touch with one of the Local Nations about the eagles and we'll be making contact with the other ones as well and looking at  if this incident, or if something like this does happen on the site again we can work more in concert together.

So we are appreciating the significance and we are putting measures in place in case something like this ever happens again, which I hope it doesn't

To that theme Mayor Pond noted how it was an event not anticipated by the city.

"Would it be fair to say that you know, that it was just something that  was not anticipated and in terms of the cultural piece weren't well prepared. 

And we want to use this as an incident to become well prepared. Should anything of a similar nature occur, would that be a fair categorization"

Councillor Cunningham observed on the process of the investigation, seeking more details on the city's response to the incident.

In reply, the Operations Director outlined some additional details towards the incident.

"The eagles were collected and conservation came out, they took one; one went to the wildlife shelter and unfortunately passed away after. 

One was sent for a necropsy, which is an autopsy for fowl for bird.

What was discovered was that the material wasn't hazardous that they ingested it and died, what it was, was that it coated their feathers and they were unable to fly.

And they either drowned or froze, because it was January, or  Decemeber-January when this happened, in that time frame and unfortunately they were unable to survive with their feathers coated in the material"

Of note from Mr. Pucci's timeline, was the disclosure that the original incident took place in December or January, yet the city only made the situation public last month.  

The official statement from the city only coming forward following a news item on the incident from the local paper in late February.

No one on council appeared to pick up on that rather lengthy period of time to make note of the incident and the steps now underway related to it and ask why there had been such a delay.

The full discussion between Councillors and staff can be reviewed through the City's Video archive starting at the 17 minute mark.

More notes related to the Monday Council session can be explored here.

Background on themes from the Operations Department can be reviewed here.

1 comment:

  1. It really feels like Mr. Buchan is side stepping some questions. Is the City at fault? Did they neglect to follow any protocol or procedures? How will they prevent this in the future?