Parks Canada officials were in Resolute last week to celebrate a cleanup project at Qausuittuq National Park.
Over a few weeks in July and August 2017, 194 empty barrels scattered among various islands were rounded up and then removed by Twin Otter aircraft to Resolute as part of the Tidy Tundra = Healthy Herd campaign. In this case, the health of the Peary caribou was a primary concern, said Jovan Simic, acting manager of Qausuittuq National Park.
"The thing that we did hear from the community was grave concern with these contaminated sites posing a threat to Peary caribou habitat. One of the main objectives of establishing Qausuittuq National Park (in 2016) was to protect calving grounds and to protect Peary caribou habitat in general," said Simic, adding that Parks Canada consulted with the hunters and trappers association and hamlet council.
He said he doesn't know with certainty whether caribou or any other wildlife had been in contact with the contaminated sites, but he said there were no indications of it while they were on the ground last summer.
The empty fuel barrels, abandoned by exploration companies, were flown to Resolute, where they were cleaned and crushed and will be sent south for proper disposal on the next sealift.
Resolute Mayor Tabitha Mullin said she thought the initiative was a good idea and she's pleased it came to fruition.
"For so long all they have been doing is sitting there, left there, even buildings and all those fuels," Mullin said. "Now something is starting to be done and I'm very grateful that it is."
There is more work to do, as 250 fuel barrels still lie within the park, and 35 of those contain contaminated liquids. Removal of those barrels is scheduled to take place during the summer of 2019-2020, according to Edith Pedneault, a media relations officer with INAC.
Mullin said she's aware of INAC's progress.
"They (INAC officials) have been going to Bathurst Island and trying to assess what's over there and what needs to be done, and they have hired local people to help with that too," she said.
Parks Canada's cleanup was carried out within two years and stayed within its $500,000 budget, according to Simic. Close to 10 people, including a couple of hired Resolute residents, were on the ground or in the air to do the job. Simic said while in Resolute last week he would present a report to the community recapping what was accomplished and began discussions about other environmental priorities.