Costco Fined ISK 20 Million for Gross Negligence Over Oil Spill

Costco

Costco has been fined ISK 20 million ($152,000 / €141,000) after 111,000 litres of diesel leaked into Hafnarfjörður’s sewage system. The Environment Agency of Iceland stated that it was fortunate that the consequences were not more severe, RÚV reports.

A threat to environmental and public health

The Environment Agency of Iceland has imposed a hefty fine of ISK 20 million ($152,000 / €141,000) on Costco for a diesel spill originating from the retail giant’s gas station in Garðabær. The spill saw 111,000 litres of diesel contaminating Hafnarfjörður’s wastewater system and eventually making its way into the ocean last December, RÚV reports.

Residents in the western region of Hafnarfjörður raised complaints about a pervasive smell resembling oil or tar cleaner. After an exhaustive investigation, evidence began to converge on the Costco gas station as the source of the leak.

In a public statement, the Environment Agency expressed its concern over Costco’s apparent lack of proactivity, oversight, and timely response to the incident. The agency further accused the company of “gross negligence,” marked by a notable level of indifference toward the spill, which led to a substantial volume of diesel leaking into the natural environment, much of which is irrecoverable.

Costco’s response and ongoing scrutiny

In response, Costco emphasised its full compliance during the investigative process. The company also challenged the notion that it was merely fortuitous that the spill did not result in more severe environmental degradation.

The Environment Agency countered by reiterating that the spill constituted a significant threat to both environmental integrity and public health, citing a lack of proper organisational protocols and attentiveness on the part of Costco.

While the Environment Agency acknowledged Costco’s subsequent cooperative stance, it pointed to past interactions as indicative of a less-than-transparent relationship. Reports from the health inspectorate suggest that in earlier stages of the investigation, the company was slow to respond and failed to provide necessary information in a timely manner.

No Hot Water in Hafnarfjörður, Parts of Garðabær, Monday to Wednesday

Due to the connection of new heating mains, there will be no hot water in all of Hafnarfjörður and parts of Garðabær between Monday night and Wednesday morning next week. The new mains are expected to ensure Hafnarfjörður’s hot water supply over the coming decades.

Integration of new heating mains

Veitur (Iceland’s public utility company) announced yesterday that Hafnarfjörður and select parts of Garðabær would be without hot water from 10 PM on Monday, August 21, to 10 AM on Wednesday, August 23. This interruption owes to the integration of new heating mains.

As noted in the announcement, the new mains will bolster transport capacity, addressing the growth in residential demand in Hafnarfjörður, stemming from town expansion; the aim is to ensure Hafnarfjörður’s hot water supply over the coming decades.

Laying new main pipes in established neighbourhoods is rare, and the process is extensive. However, Veitur commits to swift, safe completion. Updates will be available on Veitur’s website.

The following streets in Garðabær will be affected by the closure: Boðahlein, Naustahlein, Hraunholt, Hraungarðar, Hraunhóll, Hraunhamrar, Hrauntunga, Hraunkot, Hraunborg, Gimli, Björk, Brandstaðir, Garðahraun, Miðhraun, Norðurhraun, Suðurhraun, and Vesturhraun.

Avian Flu Diagnosed, Risk of Poultry Infection “Considerable”

A case of the avian flu has been diagnosed in a mallard discovered in Garðabær. The risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable,” according to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). The public is asked to notify MAST of any sightings of sick or dead birds.

The first case of avian flu

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) recently downgraded its preparedness level for avian flu, from level three to two, after there were no reported infections during the winter, RÚV reports; MAST had received significantly fewer reports from the public regarding sick or dead wild birds since last October, and the few samples that had been taken, did not yield any positive results.

Strict quarantine measures have, however, been in place to prevent the virus from being brought into the country by migratory birds. Poultry and other captive birds must, for example, be kept indoors or in covered enclosures.

Preparedness levels may need to be reconsidered, however, as a mallard discovered in a yard in Garðabær (in the capital region of Iceland) on March 31 was diagnosed with a severe case of avian flu. According to MAST, this is the first confirmed case of avian flu in Iceland this year, with the institution emphasising that the risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable.” It is, therefore, essential for all poultry owners to take “the utmost precautions.”

Numerous reports of sick and dead Kittiwakes

Over the weekend, MAST also received multiple reports of sick and dead geese, including one dead greylag goose in the western part of Seltjarnarnes, Reykjavík. Additionally, the institution also received reports of several sick and dead Kittiwakes (a common seabird in Iceland) in Keflavík, in the Reykjanes area. Since then, daily reports have been coming in about dead Kittiwakes in Bakkatjörn, Seltjarnarnes, and within a larger area on the western side of Reykjanes.

Samples were taken from both locations, but none of the samples yielded positive results for the avian flu. MAST states that it is unclear what is causing the sudden mass deaths. The case is currently under investigation and further samples will be taken. Meanwhile, MAST encourages the public to provide any information on the discovery of sick or dead birds and to report the presence of any other species in areas where there has been noticeable bird mortality.

Four of Six Capital Area Mayors Not Up for Reelection

Big leadership changes will take place in the Reykjavík capital area in Iceland’s upcoming municipal elections. RÚV reports that four out of the six current mayors in the region will not be running. Municipal elections will be held across the country on May 14, 2022, and local and municipal council members in Iceland are now making up their minds on whether or not to run for another term. Both citizens of Iceland, as well as residents of Iceland who have lived in the country for five years or longer, can vote in municipal elections.

In the capital area, the mayors of Kópavogur (Ármann Kr. Ólafsson), Setjarnarnes (Ásgerður Halldórsdóttir), Garðabær (Gunnar Einarsson), and Mosfellsbær (Haraldur Sveinsson), have all announced that they will not be running in the May election. All four have been mayor in their respective municipality for over a decade, signalling a significant change of leadership for the region. Rekjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson announced earlier this month that he would be running for reelection, as will Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir, current mayor of Hafnarfjörður.

Foreign residents of Iceland who do not hold Icelandic citizenship but have lived in the country for five years or longer have the right to vote in municipal elections. Most information on voting requirements will be available as elections approach.

Nondenominational Crematorium and Memory Garden to Open in Capital Area

site for crematorium, garðabær

Tré lífsins (‘Tree of Life’), a private organization that seeks to provide alternative, nondenominational, and environmentally friendly end-of-life services will be opening a crematorium and ‘Memory Garden’ in the capital-area municipality of Garðabær, RÚV reports. Founder Sigríður Bylgja Sigurjónsdóttir says that now that permits have been approved, fundraising for the project is the next major step. She hopes that the crematorium and funeral facilities will be up and running within three years.

As part of its efforts to get the project approved by local authorities, Tré lífsins has resurrected the Icelandic Cremation Association, which previously operated from 1934-1964. The association established a crematorium in Fossvogur at the time, and Tré lífsins had hoped to take over that facility. It was not equipped with any emissions control equipment, however, and negotiations had stalled. In the end, it was simply easier to apply for an entirely new facility to be built.

“We’ve experienced a great deal of good will toward the project and felt that the need for this is significant,” remarked Sigríður, who says that 50% of Icelanders are opting for cremation in lieu of traditional burials these days. She adds that she expects that the number of cremations will increase in Iceland in the coming years.

Services at Tré lífsins will be available to individuals regardless of their religious beliefs or views. Sigríður says there is a great need for spaces that are open to everyone for various activities in times of happiness or grief.

“So for people who maybe don’t want to have a traditional ceremony in a church or something else that is available, we want to have options. But of course, also for everyone, regardless of whether people are Christian, pagan, or anything else.”

Per the Tré lífsins website, services will be restricted at the beginning to those with Icelandic citizenship or permanent residence. The Memory Garden will stand in lieu of a traditional cemetery: “After the cremation people can choose to plant their ashes with a tree in a Memory Garden where the tree will grow up as a living memory of a loved one.”

Bank Subsidiary to Build Wellness Community in Capital Area

The capital-area municipality of Garðabær has signed a contract with Arnarland ehf, a subsidiary of Arion Bank, to build a new wellness community, Fréttablaðið reports. The community will “emphasize quality of life, nature, and health-promoting services” and be open to residents who are 50 years and older.

Per its website, Arnarland be designed with the United Nation’s sustainable development goals in mind and feature an on-site center for companies that “specialize in healthcare services, development, and innovation.” The pharmaceutical and medical supply concern Ósar, as well as its subsidiaries Icepharma and Parlogis, will be building their future headquarters within the neighborhood. “The companies and the residences will benefit from one another’s presence and increase the health-related services that are available to nearby communities,” remarked Parlogis CEO Hálfdan Gunnarsson.

Arnarland, which will be approximately 10 ha [24 acres] in size, will be built on a plot of land that has been owned by Landey, an Arion Bank subsidiary, since 2016. Landey recently changed its name to Arnarland ehf. Arion bank holds a 51% share in the neighborhood. The real estate company Fasteignafélagið Akurey, holds the other 49%. The real estate company is owned by father and son Kristján Jóhannsson and Jóhann Ingi Kristjánsson, who together, own a combined majority, or 64%, in Icepharma and Parlogis.

Arnarland ehf CEO Þorgerður Anna Einarsdóttir says the community will fill a real niche in the capital-area housing market.

“In our opinion, there’s a real shortage of high quality and spacious apartments for people who want to downsize when their chicks leave the nest. This neighborhood will place an emphasis on allowing residents to cultivate body and soul in a beautiful and nourishing environment.”

IKEA Christmas Goat Gives It Another Go

The IKEA Christmas Goat was erected without much fanfare in Garðabær on the outskirts of Reykjavík earlier this week, mbl.is reports. The annual, ill-fated harbinger of the Christmas season has had to be placed under strict surveillance in recent years, as it is frequently a popular target for firebugs.

The Christmas Goat is based on traditional, albeit much smaller, straw Yule Goat figurines, and originated in Gävle, Sweden in 1966. IKEA in Iceland adopted the tradition in 2009. Neither the Swedish original nor its Icelandic cousin has fared terribly well over the years. The Gävle Goat has been burned to the ground or damaged 37 times. Meanwhile, the Christmas Goat in Garðabær has been subject to numerous pyromanical attacks and was successfully burned down by arsonists three times (in 2010, 2012, and 2016). It seemingly self-immolated in 2015, when it caught fire due to an electrical malfunction. But even in years when it hasn’t burned down, the Christmas Goat hasn’t fared much better: harsh winter winds have knocked it over on more than one occasion.

Last year, a spoof event on Facebook urging thousands to rush the Christmas Goat and burn it en masse led IKEA to place the doomed monument under 24-surveillance. What lies in store for the Christmas Goat this year remains to be seen, although one could easily argue that 2020 is perhaps not the best year to start being optimistic.

Child Dies in Shooting Accident at Home

fatal accident Iceland

An eleven-year-old boy died from an accidental gunshot wound in the capital-area town of Garðabær on Tuesday, RÚV reports. According to initial information shared with the media, the police were called to the child’s home, where the boy was found dead.

Capital-area police superintendent Margeir Sveinsson confirmed that the case was still under investigation but was not being treated as a criminal matter. A statement issued by the police reinforced this, calling the incident “a great tragedy,” but emphasizing that “there is no indication that anything criminal took place.”

Police are not providing any additional information on the matter and ask that the family be given privacy to mourn.

Thirty-Hour Hot Water Shutdown Throughout Capital Area Next Week

sundhöll

Large parts of the capital area will be without hot water for 30 hours in the coming week due to construction work being undertaken by utility company Veitur. RÚV reports that the service suspension will affect roughly 50,000 residents.

Veitur PR rep Ólöf Snæhólm Baldursdóttir said that hot water service will be suspended in order to make infrastructural changes: new neighbourhood developments need to receive their hot water from power plants rather than boreholes in Mosfellsbær and Reykjavík in order to reduce strain on the latter.

Hot water will be shut off starting at 2 am on Tuesday morning until 9 am on Wednesday morning.

The shutdown will affect the following areas:

  • All of the town of Hafnarfjörður
  • In Garðabær, the neighbourhood of Urriðaholt, the Kauptún shopping plaza, as well as the streets of Suðurhraun, Austurhraun, Norðurhraun, and Miðhraun, Holtsbúð, and all streets whose names end in -lundur
  • In Kópavogur, the outage will affect most of neighbourhoods Lindahverfi and Salahverfi; in Vatnsendi, it will affect streets that end in -kór, -þing, and -hvarf
  • In Reykjavík, the outage will impact the neighbourhood of Norðlingaholt

Ólöf said that business and service entities such as nursing homes, pools, hair salons, and food producers were informed several weeks ago of the coming shutdown. She advises that people in need of a shower turn to local pools and gyms in areas where the hot water supply is still in working order.

Preparations for New Refugee Arrivals Going Well

Twenty-five quota refugees are expected to arrive in the capital area in the next month and preparations for their arrival are well underway, RÚV reports.

The towns of Garðabær and Mosfellsbær will both welcome ten refugees each and five will be moving to Seltjarnarnes. (One of the newcomers has already arrived and is getting settled in Seltjarnarnes.) The refugees are arriving from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

Building on experience in Mosfellsbær

“We, the staff of the town of Mosfellsbær, are excited about the refugees’ arrival and things are going well,” said Unnur V. Ingólfsdóttir, director of Mosfellsbær’s family division. She continued that “…[P]eople in town [are] eager and positive about the arrival of the refugees.”

Unnur also said that preparations are easier this year because staff already has experience resettling refugees; Mosfellsbær welcomed ten people from Uganda last year. The most complicated part of the process is, as it was last year, finding housing for the new residents, but town officials are in the process of locating accommodations.

 

First time for resettlements in Garðabær

This is the first time that refugees will be resettling in the town of Garðabær. Ragna Dögg Þorsteinsdóttir, the project manager responsible for the refugees’ reception there, said that there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of, such as ensuring the new arrivals have access to both physical and mental health services. Then, of course, housing needs to be found and financial assistance made available while people are getting their feet under them in the community. Nevertheless, Ragna said that work opportunities would be plentiful for the refugees in Garðabær, and previous resettlement experience in places such as Mosfellsbær has shown that refugees are quick to find work after arriving in Iceland.

There are a lot of things that newcomers to Iceland have to adjust to, says Ragna, not least learning a new language and getting used to the weather and long, dark winters. But people are also more insular in Iceland than they often are in the countries that the refugees are coming from and in Iceland, and the new arrivals don’t have the benefit of a whole social support network of old friends and family.

Garðabær residents have a good attitude about their soon-to-be neighbors’ arrival, says Ragna. Mayor Gunnar Einarsson seconded this, saying that people are “generally positive” about welcoming the refugees.