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Border bathroom problem: Overflowing outhouse discussed in legislative assembly

Mike W. Bryant/NNSL photo An RTL B-train drives across Quyta Lake on its way back to Yellowknife via the secondary route to the diamond mines.

The Department of Infrastructure, Tourism and Investment (ITI) said it is reviewing what can be done about an overflowing outhouse on the NWT-Alberta border.

A welcome sign at the NWT/Alberta border. NNSL file photo

A post in the Hay River Classifieds Facebook group, which has since been deleted, showed a photograph of the overflowing toilet at 60th Parallel Territorial Park.

Several people commented on the post expressing concern over the state of the rest stop, pointing out that it’s the first place many tourists stop when driving into the territory from Alberta.

The responsibility of maintaining highway rest stops is shared between the departments of Infrastructure and ITI, but the outhouse is the responsibility of ITI, said Drew Williams, a director of strategic communications with the department.

“We are aware of this recurring issue,” Williams wrote in an email. “In this particular instance, the Department has dispatched a contractor to clean up the site.”

Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson brought up the issue in the legislative assembly on Tuesday.

"Mr. Speaker, after this week, I might have to swear off Facebook for good," he said. "When I opened it up the other day, the first thing in my feed was a picture of the inside of the outhouse at the GNWT-owned North-of-60 visitors centre. It was not pretty, and I will spare everyone the gruesome details."

Simpson acknowledged the issue is a recurring one at this time of year.

"It goes on and on for years," he said. "Particularly at the border when the ice roads are in and all of the big trucks start coming from the south."

"It is where the truckers stop, and, you know, they don't take it easy on that bathroom, Mr. Speaker, and it is not a great way to introduce visitors to the Northwest Territories."

During the summer season, highway toilet facilities are serviced regularly by contractors, but a lack of resources means that doesn’t continue through the winter, explained Williams.

“The department sends out a contractor once a month in the off season – or whenever conditions like this are reported to us,” he said, adding that ITI spends about $50,000 a year cleaning rest stops along Highway 3 from Chan Lake Territorial Park to the 60th Parallel.

But at this time of year, two factors combine and make for crammed commodes.

“While there is an increase in traffic during the mine resupply season, and from gravel hauls on highways, the facilities are still frozen – and simply cannot accommodate the necessary amount of refuse,” stated Williams.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from needing to go – and they do.”

The department is reviewing what can be done, and has considered alternatives, he said.

“But unfortunately, there is no easy fix for this problem,” said Williams.

Wally Schumann, Minister of ITI, echoed that statement in the legislative assembly on Tuesday.

"We have 8,000 loads going to the mine site this year, so there are 16,000 extra trucks of traffic going just past that facility alone," he said.

"Just think about that, if that was your washroom, the amount of toilet paper you have to supply."

Schumann said the department will be looking at solutions to the problem. The facilities don't have access to power, so alternatives could include rotating porta-potties, antifreeze, propane heat or running power to the facilities from the Alberta side of the border.

It costs about $70,000 to build a regular outhouse, said Schumann and a heated facility would cost roughly double that.

"We would be spending something like $140,000, not counting to run power out to this type of facility," he said. "We are doing a review right now of our strategic plan on parks, and I am sure that this is going to be a topic of discussion."