Fire destroys Churchill’s only waste-storage facility

Mayor says northern Manitoba town exploring incineration as an alternative

Residents of Churchill, Man., are without a garbage storage facility after a fire destroyed the town’s only waste drop-off centre.

Mayor Mike Spence said the fire broke out at the waste transfer station on April 11. The building, a former military warehouse, was used to store the town’s garbage in the winter.

Spence said the cause was likely combustion.

“We have quite a unique sort of storage, and sort and store all of our garbage,” Spence told APTN News. “So this process comes with a risk of spontaneous combustion, and we take every precaution to manage the risk, but unfortunately that’s what happens.”

The community, about 1,000 kms north of Winnipeg, closed its landfill in 2005. Indoor waste storage was introduced to deter scavenging polar bears from coming into town.

Manitoba’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Tracy Schmidt, said the province had sent on-the-ground support to Churchill.

She added it is working with the municipal government to explore short and long-term solutions.

“We understand that the building was a total loss,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to be here to support the city of Churchill and make sure that they get what they need to ensure that environmental protections are taken care of, and the public health of the community is taken care of.”

Over the past few years, the town has been exploring waste management alternatives, including burning and composting garbage, to reduce and deter human-polar bear interactions while prioritizing the environment.

“We’re looking at incineration, gasification, as the way forward,” Spence noted. “We’ve been looking at this plan for over two years, but it is a slow process.”

If Churchill moves forward with a new waste-management model, Spence believes it could serve as an example for other communities.

“With this type of model, there’s other northern communities up the coast from us that have similar problems in terms of having waste,” he said “We’re ahead of the game in terms of looking and advancing to where we need to go, so yeah, that’s the ultimate goal.”

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