Hay River is still dealing with the aftermath of a March 15 fire on the 11th floor of the Mackenzie Place apartment building. No residents are currently living in the structure and it is uncertain when they may return. NNSL file photo
Hay River is still dealing with the aftermath of a March 15 fire on the 11th floor of the Mackenzie Place apartment building. No residents are currently living in the structure and it is uncertain when they may return.
NNSL file photo

The owner of the Mackenzie Place highrise – damaged by a fire on March 15 and now empty of tenants as a result – says he plans to repair and reopen the building.

“We’re starting to repair it already,” said Harry Satdeo in a March 23 telephone interview with The Hay River Hub from his residence in Florida. “We’re going to do what needs to be done and get it going hopefully within a couple of months.”

However, that work will not be covered by insurance.

“There wasn’t any insurance,” said Satdeo, explaining it was too expensive to purchase.

Asked if the lack of insurance will affect repairs to the building, since he would have to pay for them, the owner said, “I suppose so. I’m hoping the government will give some money.”

Satdeo noted a number of contractors have already been hired to do some work.

Asked if he believes the building can be repaired, he replied, “Oh yes, for sure.”

Satdeo has owned the highrise for 16 years.

As of late last week, he didn’t know the full extent of the damages to the building, nor the cost of repairs.

“I don’t have a final report, as yet,” he said.

Satdeo doesn’t have any information on a possible cause of the fire.

“That’s with the RCMP,” he said. “I haven’t been told anything by anyone.”

Satdeo noted he will be coming to Hay River, probably in a couple of weeks.

Asked if he had a message for displaced tenants, he replied, “Have patience, and we should be back in business in a couple of months.”

Satdeo’s absence after the fire has not gone unnoticed.

“If the owner was here, this would be a little bit different situation because we’d be talking directly to him,” said Hay River South MLA and territorial cabinet minister Wally Schumann at a March 20 meeting with displaced people. “But with the owner not being here and being able to address what’s going on, the Government of the Northwest Territories has to step in. We’re trying to deal with this thing.”

Throughout last week, displaced residents were encouraged to meet with representatives of the NWT Housing Corporation to assess their accommodation needs.

Jim Martin, the corporation’s vice-president, told residents that, in the short term, regardless of whether the highrise can be remediated and put back in operation, people will need housing options.

“To address the immediate need, the Housing Corporation has been having discussions with local property owners, hotels and any buildings or assets that could potentially be used for housing,” he said. “I want to be clear in terms of public housing that there are only four to five units in Hay River that could be temporarily used at this time.”

Martin noted there are also a handful of federal rental properties that may be available.

“We are all aware that there are a limited number of units available for rent in Hay River,” he said. “We need to explore any and all options, and we continue to do so.”

That includes the corporation working with K’atlodeeche First Nation to quickly repair and bring on stream 16 units on the Hay River Reserve, but Martin said that may take two months.

As of last week, the estimated 135 displaced residents were staying in various accommodations – at the Dene Wellness and Development Centre on the Hay River Reserve, in hotels, and with friends and families, while some had found other apartments.

Martin said the best-case scenario is the highrise could be available sometime in the future, even if it’s months from now.

There are about 130 apartments in the now-vacant Mackenzie Place, and 83 of them are rented.

NWT Fire Marshal Chucker Dewar said he has conducted several assessments of the entire highrise from a safety perspective.

Dewar said the structure is stable for its current use, such as access by a disaster mitigation company and brief access by tenants on March 20 and March 21.

“We didn’t assess it for reopening, really,” he said. “We assessed it for immediate hazards. So we tested the air, we tested the structural stability, we tested for asbestos. As far as reopening the building to the public, that will be up to the owner.”

Dewar said that, from the location of the fire on the 11th floor, water damage extends downwards, mainly on the north side of the building.

“There is extensive damage to some and minor damage to others,” he said of the apartments below the fire.

On the 11th and 12th floors, he said there is some smoke and heat damage to apartments.

Dewar said the investigation into the cause of the fire is being led by the RCMP.

And the RCMP are seeking help from the public.

“At this time, RCMP are requesting anyone with information, including photographs and/or video, of this incident to please come forward,” stated a March 20 news release from Const. Heather Cosenzo of ‘G’ Division in Yellowknife. “What may seem like a regular photo could provide valuable information to this investigation.”

Anyone with information pertaining to the investigation can contact RCMP ‘G’ Division’s Major Crimes Unit by calling 867-669-1111, anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), online at nwtnutips.com, or by texting nwtnutips to 274637.

The RCMP did not respond to a request from The Hub for more information about their investigation.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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