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Nature versus housing

Supporters of preserving the so-called Hay River Nature Park ran into a brick wall of harsh reality at a recent council meeting.

On Oct. 29, a spokesperson for the Ecology North subcommittee Healthy Habitat for Hay River, plus a baker's dozen of backers in the public gallery, made the case to preserve the wooded area in the vicinity of Keith Broadhead Memorial Twin Park.

However, two councillors said flat out that at least part of the area should be used for a residential development to be known as Fraser Place. A couple of others offered soothing platitudes thanking the residents for their input, but offering nothing resembling support.

So the betting favourite is that Fraser Place may eventually go ahead, although geotechnical studies have yet to be done.

Hay River needs more housing. We have never heard anyone say otherwise.

Yet, there is no doubt that natural spaces should be preserved, if possible. They create a more appealing community. Just ask New York City, which has preserved Central Park – land which would no doubt be worth billions if developed.

Of course, Hay River is not Manhattan. We have heard some people mock the idea of a nature park when we are surrounded by wilderness.

We have been in the Hay River Nature Park – an unofficial designation which we will use, anyway – and it is quite nice. It would be a shame to see even part of it disappear.

Is it worth preserving at the risk of not having enough space for people to live in Hay River? Council members apparently think it isn't, and their opinions are the only ones that really matter.

However, there are at least two other things to consider when discussing housing in Hay River, neither of which will come as a surprise to anyone.

Some councillors noted the town has unsuccessfully lobbied for GNWT financial support for the proposed Sundog/Evergreen land development near the new hospital. That would be a significant development and go a long way to solving the housing crisis. So obviously the case must be vigorously made once again to the new territorial cabinet that it should support that proposed land development. To do otherwise would be restricting the growth of a major community in the NWT. (This seems like a good first task for new cabinet minister R.J. Simpson, no matter what portfolio the MLA for Hay River North is assigned.)

And, someone has to get Mackenzie Place reopened. The owner of the fire-damaged building has said he may seek a $500,000 loan from the GNWT to upgrade the structure or even ask the territorial government to take it over. No doubt some may balk at that, but the highrise must somehow be reopened. There are about 120 apartments just sitting there empty. It's illogical to allow that to continue.

Sundog/Evergreen and Mackenzie Place can be part of the solution to the housing crisis in Hay River.

And after hearing the comments and non-comments of town councillors, it appears very likely that Fraser Place will be part of the solution, too.