A roadblock was set up at the West Channel Bridge on May 4 for the evacuation of Vale Island during the spring breakup of the Hay River.
NNSL file photo

Under an agreement with the Town of Hay River, the territorial government will be covering most of the expenses for the evacuation of Vale Island as it was threatened by flooding during spring breakup early this month.

Glenn Smith, the town’s assistant senior administrative officer, said around $40,000 will be covered by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

“That’s the majority of the expenses associated with the breakup,” said Smith on May 22.

The expenses were for things like hotel accommodations for evacuees, transportation and food.

“We worked out an understanding with the GNWT, and specifically the Department of MACA, all on covering the costs that were associated with the evacuation activities,” said Smith.

It is the town’s first arrangement of its kind with MACA because of the unique challenges of the Covid-19 crisis, he added.

Those challenges included the need to place evacuating households in separate accommodations.

“Usually we rely on public facilities for accommodations,” said Smith. “It’s probably a unique scenario that we haven’t seen before where there was an identified need to use private accommodations.”

Plus, he noted it was probably rare that people were evacuated out of Hay River.

“And that is the responsibility of the territorial government,” he noted.

There are an estimated 190 households and over 450 people living on Vale Island, which includes West Channel and Old Town.

About 362 individuals from about 153 households evacuated in case of flooding that never actually happened.

The evacuees were accommodated in various places, including 76 hotel rooms in Hay River.

Nine households totalling 24 people stayed in an RV park set up at the Hay River Community Centre, while others stayed in private accommodations.

Six households with a total of 15 people drove to hotels in Yellowknife.

Smith noted that the evacuation was only for two nights, which decreased the cost.

Advance planning had anticipated that evacuees could be away from Vale Island for up to a week.

“There was reduced demand associated with sending people out of Hay River to Yellowknife,” Smith said. “There were no charter plane expenses, as an example.”

The expenses for the town will be minimal, he noted, explaining it benefitted from volunteers for such things as monitoring the river.

During the May 19 online meeting of council, Judy Goucher, the town’s senior administrative officer, said it is hoped there will be a quick turnaround on reimbursement from MACA so that the town can pay all of the bills for services provided during breakup.

A spokesperson for MACA explained the department, through the Emergency Management Organization (EMO), supports local authorities during emergencies.

That support is normally provided when the emergency response requirements exceed the capacity of a community, or it requests assistance due to other factors beyond its control, like sending evacuees to a different community.

“The EMO does assume the costs for those additional requirements, such as transportation to the host location, and costs for the hosting arrangements,” said the spokesperson.

Hay River has group shelters as part of its emergency plan that normally would have been sufficient, the MACA official added in written responses to questions from The Hub. “With the Covid-19 situation and public health measures in place, the community emergency plan was adapted identifying a need for additional capacity to host evacuees in order to comply with the group gathering and social distancing requirements under the chief public health office orders. This adaptation to their plan meant that there were not enough appropriate spaces in Hay River to accommodate all potential evacuees.”

In accordance with the NWT Emergency Plan, the town requested assistance from MACA/EMO for hosting evacuees, and the territorial government assumed responsibility for those arrangements.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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