Three NWT communities have passed a motion requesting disaster assistance funding from the territorial government, and a fourth could follow.
Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River and Fort Good Hope are now looking to the disaster assistance policy to recover water-damaged property. The disaster assistance policy, a fund administered through the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), supports individuals, small businesses and community governments recovering from a disaster and restoring damaged property. The policy compensates 80 per cent of eligible costs.
Aklavik become the fourth community to declare a local state of emergency on May 28. As of May 31, Mackenzie River water levels above Aklavik were recorded at 15.5 metres according to Environment Canada and 166 residents have been evacuated to Inuvik, so far. The Town of Norman Wells is on standby to accommodate another 100 people if needed.
As residents and community leaders look to the GNWT for answers, Paulie Chinna, MACA Minister, said this is the first time the territory has experienced four flooded communities at one time.
She acknowledged the government’s response to the disaster “took a bit of time” as territorial officials looked to the federal government for disaster management criteria and recommendations on response. Knowing flooding risks were high, Chinna said the department should have looked at applications for disaster management retroactively rather than reactively. She also said the government should have looked at having the rangers on standby earlier.
“Taking these lessons into consideration,” Chinna told NNSL Media “we will be better prepared next year,” and that the department would put in “a lot more work to enhance emergency management.”
Chinna called the damages in affected communities “significant” though couldn’t give specifics on remediation ahead of completed assessments.
A public safety notice, issued May 27, states assessments began in Fort Simpson on May 25 and on May 26 in Jean Marie River. During an accountability and oversight committee meeting on the evening of May 25, however, Chinna told other Members of the Legislative Assembly that assessors would enter flooded communities later in the week or early the next week.
Noting this discrepancy, NNSL requested clarification on the dates assessors were actually on the ground in Fort Simpson and did not receive a response by press time. This information will be added as it becomes available.
In Fort Good Hope, the community emergency management team continues to provide the GNWT with initial assessments of flood damaged property to inform next steps.
In response to confusion over how impacted residents can access the recovery funding, Chinna said two GNWT officials have been assigned the “liaison role” between damage assessors and community governments to assist with logistics and “looking at what is required at the ground level and working with local governments on the disaster application process.”
One liaison official has been deployed in Fort Simpson and one in Jean Marie River.
Moving forward, Chinna said “improvement is always going to be required.”
She said that climate change is here and that “we need to start recognizing those changes in our environment,” along with looking at how best to respond.
She pointed to deterioration of winter roads and community barges as examples of areas that could be impacted by climate change. “There are a lot of factors this is going to highlight,” the minister said, emphasising the need to remain vigilant and continue updating plans on emergency preparedness.