Residents of Hay River and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve can now qualify for extra money to help cover the cost of damages from May’s devastating floods, the GNWT announced on June 28.

Under the new rules of the territory’s Disaster Assistance Policy (DAP), the highest amount paid out for the replacement of a home or business destroyed by floods is being increased to $240,000 from $100,000. Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Shane Thompson provided the update at a news conference announcing the government’s approach to disaster assistance.

The government will cover the first $240,000 of repair costs and then half of the remainder of the claim, up to a maximum of $600,000.

In addition, those who qualify can receive an extra $75,000 for flood mitigation measures – such as raising a home or installing water-resistant building materials – but they “must be pre-approved before the work begins,” said Thompson.

The changes were discussed on June 27 at a community meeting in Hay River attended by about 100 residents.

“We want to ensure that all flooding impacted residents and businesses can get back into their homes and back to business as soon as possible,” Thompson said. “We recognize that many residents are under a significant amount of stress and our thoughts are with them during this challenging time.”

The Disaster Assistance Policy was started in 1981 to help residents and businesses deal with damages or losses from natural disasters not covered by insurance.

“Now we’re treating it as a live document,” said Thompson. “Every year, as disasters happen or don’t happen, we’ll look at our policy and see how we can better improve.”

MACA’s Deputy Minister Laura Gareau said the recent changes are being made “to address gaps and inefficiencies” that caused frustration with the rebuilding and recovery process after the 2021 flood season in Fort Simpson.

“The basic principles of the policy did not change with the amendments,” she said.

The deadline to submit claims for disaster assistance is Dec. 31, 2023.

In addition to the DAP, two federal programs will provide disaster recovery and financial assistance to South Slave flood victims this year, said Gareau, including the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA), which “provides up to 100 per cent reimbursement.”

Repairs and replacement of property damaged by flooding on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve are being handled by Indigenous Services Canada’s Emergency Management Assistance Program (EMAP).

Residents and small business owners are being asked to register with MACA. As of Tuesday, a total of 408 residents and small businesses in both the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and the Town of Hay River had done so, said Gareau. About 360 damage assessments had been completed, she said, and about 130 had been sent to recipients.

“We are aware that there are some structures that are likely damaged beyond repair,” said Gareau.

About three quarters of the assessments show an average of $120,000 in damages while the rest have damage over $240,000, “though it is important to note that these are averages,” she said.

To help residents navigate the flood recovery process, three GNWT officials known as pathfinders are available to help. Pathfinders in Hay River can now be found in the MACA office and through the K’atl’odeeche First Nation Administration Office.

Regarding their availability Gareau said they were “dealing with a large volume of people and files. Every single one is experiencing a unique circumstance.”

“We are assessing whether or not we need to put more pathfinders on the ground,” she continued. “And we’ll definitely do so if we if we need to.”

In addition, about 50 spill sites contaminated with oil or fuel have been found in the disaster area and the GNWT will be paying to clean up the sites if needed, she said.

A preliminary assessment by Glenn Smith, Hay River’s senior administrative officer, found the unprecedented flooding caused about $22 million in damages to municipal infrastructure while mitigation work will cost an additional $30 million.

At a council meeting June 28, he called the changes to the DAP “good news overall for the community.”

However, as there is no limit to how much disaster assistance a municipal government can receive from the GNWT, Smith said he was “a little concerned with some of the language that’s been expressed.”

“The administration is seeking clarity from MACA on the impact of the announcement,” he continued.

Flood mapping underway

Workers with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources arrived in both communities to map the extent of the floods “as soon as it was safe for them to go in,” said Gareau.

Using data collected from government workers and an external contractor, MACA will be releasing a flood mapping report to help affected communities guide the repair of damage caused by the natural disaster.

“We will provide that information to both communities,” said Gareau. “They are the ones who will be making decisions about what the impact is for their community bylaws and their zoning bylaws.”

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