Questions over the long-time viability of NWT communities following major natural disaster events in the Northwest Territories will mostly be left up to municipalities and individuals, GNWT officials said this week.

Shane Thompson, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs as well as Environment and Natural Resources and Lands said in a May 12 news conference that territorial officials can provide advice or make recommendations when working with local governments as to where subdivisions should be built.

Thompson acknowledged that New Town in Hay River was built because of the historically heavy flood in 1963. However, ultimately, the decision is up to municipalities where subdivisions and critical pieces of infrastructure will be located.

“At the end of the day, it’s about working with the municipalities and explaining the challenges that you have with (locations of some buildings),” he said.

“Ultimately, it’s the communities that make these decisions because we cannot be a communist state…we can’t dictate to them what to do. We can provide recommendations on how they should look at things.”

Thompson said out that in his electoral district of Nahendeh there were important discussions following last year’s floods about relocating certain buildings and critical pieces of infrastructure to safer areas from flooding. Among them including whether the health centre should be relocated to higher ground, where homes in Jean Marie River should be situated and the extent to which structures should be placed on pilings or roads built higher.

The ministers were pressed by reporters on the extent to which small communities have any real ability to provide long-term foresight.

Cochrane admitted that the realities of climate change are putting more pressure on the territorial and federal government to be more active and involved in the locations of communities.

However moving around assets and buildings and whole communities can be complicated if individuals don’t want to cooperate.

She pointed out that the territory has attempted in the past, for example, to move the community of Aklavik to Inuvik due to flooding. Elders then said they wanted to go home after being moved.

She said individuals have to be aware of the risks of when and where they buy property and use information that the territorial government on how to be prepared when buying in high risk areas.

“The point is that people need to make informed decisions and climate change is real,” she said.

“It’s impacting people not only in the NWT but across Canada and you’re seeing it in flooding season in other jurisdictions as well.”

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