Fort Simpson has lost a second councillor in quick succession. Councillor Kirby Groat read his resignation into the record at a meeting this week.
Groat’s resignation came just moments after the swearing-in of Randy Sibbeston – an appointed replacement for Mike Rowe, who resigned from the Dehcho village’s council in mid-April.
Groat said he was stepping away because of transparency issues and a concern regarding the village’s sewage treatment facility.
“There is a lot, and it’s not all just recently,” he said.
“All the way through it’s been like that. It’s the sewage treatment plant – the transparency in there, trying to cost it.
“How much it costs is an impossible task and it shouldn’t be. It should be everybody working, trying to figure it out.”
Groat began having concerns when he toured the plant and found there was no sink for staff in the facility.
“It took me three months to get council to make a motion that said to put a sink in the treatment plant,” he said. “That should have been a no-brainer. Like, get a sink in there.”
Mayor Sean Whelly agreed that was a matter of safety and was addressed by council.
“He brought that up a year ago,” said Whelly, referring to Groat, “and the administration did work to ensure that that was done.
“It’s just kind-of a dirty environment. Some jobs are just dirty jobs. That was an issue and it was addressed.”
Sewage disposal problems
But the issue is larger than that, Groat said.
According to Groat, the village is constantly in discussions with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, the local regulator, because of the way the plant disposes of treated sewage at the landfill.
“We end up with a solid sludge after [treatment], there’s a block,” he said. “So they have to transport it to the dump. And they’ve been piling it in the dump. So it’s been building up there.”
The block Groat is referring to is the semi-solid material left after treating municipal wastewater. Groat wants a lagoon built at the landfill for waste to be composted as a means of reducing costs at the treatment plant.
Kirby Groat, seen in a submitted photo, resigned his position on Fort Simpson council on Tuesday.
Whelly says the cost of building and maintaining a lagoon, and the potential for environmental repercussions due to yearly flooding, mean it isn’t an option.
“[A lagoon] was considered, but it was dismissed. And it wasn’t just a brief look, it was engineers looking at the costs and everything else,” the mayor said. “But the biggest reason why it wasn’t feasible on Fort Simpson Island is because of the very fact that we do flood sometimes.
“To build a sewage lagoon on the island was going to be something that I think the land and water board wouldn’t have liked … if we ever got a severe flood it would overflow the sewage lagoon and everything would go into the river.”
Fort Simpson’s council has applied for federal funding to correct a problem where wastewater is leaching into the groundwater at the landfill. However, Whelly said the funding wasn’t granted this year and the village must reapply.
He said the village may now create a composting area at the dump that would also accept yard waste. In turn, that compost could be turned into a class of soil for non-edible plants such as grass or other types of landscaping.
“We would have a big cement pad so there could be no leaching into the soil,” he said. “And this compressed waste product that we take from our current sewage plant would be placed out there in rows and then turned over.
”And then we’d end up with what is a black topsoil suitable for land planting.”
Whelly said land and water board knows the village is working on a plan to address the leaching of wastewater.
“They’re not forcing us to close down what we’re doing right now,” he said. “I think they’re giving us time to meet what they’re trying to say we have to do.”
When to go in camera?
Groat’s transparency concerns primarily focus on the regularity with which Fort Simpson’s councils goes in camera to discuss issues.
Choosing to go in camera – Latin for “in a chamber” – means councillors end the public portion of their meetings and talk about matters behind closed doors.
Groat thinks council privately discussed some issues which should have been public.
Whelly, however, said sometimes the move was precautionary in nature.
“Sometimes you go in camera … and it was so benign, that you probably could have talked about it at your open meeting,” the mayor said.
“But you never know for sure, because you can’t control what people are going to say.
“It’s just a method of being able to have a really free discussion about something in a situation where you don’t want to put yourself in a bad spot.”
To fill another empty seat, Whelly said he would like to repeat the appointment process used to replace Rowe. Council can either hold a by-election, leave the seat vacant, or appoint any resident who is eligible.
Council may hold a special meeting to discuss its options or move ahead with another appointment before the end of this week.
If council decides to appoint the next candidate in line from the last election, as it did with Sibbeston, AJ Augier would return to council having received 150 votes at the time.
Augier first joined the village council in 2016 after Fort Simpson councillor Larry Campbell resigned.
Whelly said the swearing-in of a new councillor could happen on June 1.