The Town of Hay River is continuing to make its case for disaster assistance from the GNWT to help pay for the landfill fire in 2019.

On Jan. 11, council approved submitting a resolution to the annual general meeting of the NWT Association of Communities at the end of February calling for changes to the GNWT’s Disaster Assistance Policy.

The resolution calls on the association to urge the GNWT to recognize extraordinary, emergency fires at solid waste management facilities as a potential disaster that can lead to significant municipal property destruction and environmental damage, and put people’s health, safety and welfare at risk.

The Town of Hay River is still seeking GNWT support to pay for a fire that burned at the landfill for most of March 2019. NNSL file photo March 11, 2019 Hay River Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The resolution also calls for the GNWT’s Disaster Assistance Policy to be updated to include the specific indication that such fires can be considered a disaster; that the maximum assistance payable be increased to $1 million from $100,000 to more appropriately cover the costs; and that the fiscal status of a community should have no bearing on the eligibility or amount of coverage under the policy.

The landfill fire in Hay River burned from March 3 to March 28, 2019.

The Town of Hay River applied for assistance under the policy in August 2019, but the GNWT announced its decision to deny the request last November.

Mayor Kandis Jameson said the resolution will be submitted to the NWT Association of Communities because the issue is not specific to Hay River.

“We wanted to ensure that going forward the government was going to look at what the solution would be when you have almost half of the cost associated with the dump fire to do with environmental testing requirements that are out of our control, yet we get a letter from the minister saying that public safety was not an issue,” said Jameson. “There are questions that need to be answered and we want them answered and we want a solution coming out of this. And we feel it would be remiss of us if we didn’t bring it to the attention of the rest of the communities.”

The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs previously stated that the Hay River dump fire was not a disaster as defined by the policy, specifically that there was no widespread damage that affected a significant number of people’s properties and the health, safety and welfare of residents were not at risk.

The town incurred in excess of $1 million in firefighting and associated environmental monitoring/protection expenses to extinguish the fire and mitigate disaster during a declared state of emergency. Only $100,000 of the firefighting costs was covered through the town’s insurance policy.

Jameson said that, if the GNWT is not going to support communities when they have a dump fire, they need to be aware of that and they better be banking some money because it’s a significant cost that has to come out of somewhere.

“It doesn’t matter how you look at it, it’s going to take away from something else and usually it will be capital,” the mayor said, referring to such things as economic development.

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