Vale Island residents are calling on leaders of all levels of government to attend a meeting next month to address ongoing flooding questions in their neighbourhood.
Lakeshore Drive residents Beatrice Lepine and Jane Groenewegen sent a letter on Aug. 13 to leading Town of Hay River officials, both Hay River MLAs, leaders of local Indigenous governments, GNWT and federal department officials as well as NWT MP Michael McLeod, calling at attend a meeting to answer how the heavy amounts of water are being managed.
“Your attendance is requested at a meeting on Sept. 8, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. at Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre main hall, to discuss the unprecedented drainage issues currently being experienced at Vale Island,” states the letter.
“There are several properties in Old Town and West Channel that have serious flooding issues from ground water and many more properties with very wet yards.”
The letter follows a community meeting held on Aug. 12 with about 10 neighbours at the Hay River Public Beach who were discussing plans and ways to invite government officials to address drainage issues on the island.
The letter contains several pressing questions to town officials on what work has been done in recent years to address drainage issues in the area, the GNWT Department of Infrastructure’s role and responsibility of investing in ditch work along the Mackenzie Highway, potential problems that may exist with beaver ponding by the GNWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and what analysis and funding is available.
Lepine, a former town councillor, resource management careerist and lifelong resident echoed the sentiments that people in the area have told the Hub in recent weeks.
“I’m a resident on the island and I have lived here all of my life. Almost 70 years,” she said. “Longtime residents have never seen anything like this before.”
Lepine said she doesn’t think there is enough proper oversight on how climate change is causing long-term problems that are not only being seen on the island, but other communities outside the region too.
“I’ve been researching the GNWT and seeing who is paying attention to (climate change) and because climate change is broken up in different departments, there is not real oversight on the landscape.”
For the municipality’s part, Lepine said she wants to see the town do more, too, including hiring a hydrologist.
“There is not really an effort to see what is going on,” she said. “So with this meeting, we want to alert leadership to the larger hydrological processes going on and that we have a real problem going on that the town needs to address.”
But the town and GNWT departments say they are keenly aware of the situation and have been working to address flooding since the spring.
Glenn Smith, senior administrative officer has said in recent weeks that the town has been working to address excess water on Vale Island that has included high lake levels, standing water and ground water which have led to drainage problems.
Mike Westwick, spokesperson with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said that department has been in constant contact with the municipality.
“The Town has been issued all necessary permits from the GNWT to remove any obstructing beaver dams, do any necessary trapping, and complete water diversion work within the municipality’s boundaries, as necessary,” he said in a July 29 email.
“We have been in regular communication and have provided advice on dealing with any potential environmental concerns in the area.”
Westwick said that the department has also completed an aerial drone survey along Oxbow Channel and affected areas on Vale Island.
“We are providing this footage to help the municipality and other government agencies target their response efforts to control beaver dams in the area,” he said.
He added that the island and neighbourhood are always considered to be vulnerable to high water levels as well.
”It is currently very saturated, leaving the accumulating water with very few drainage options,” he said. “This is to be expected in a season where extremely high water levels have been seen throughout many of the NWT’s basins.”