In March 2019, emergency crews battle a stubborn fire at the Hay River landfill. A town application, submitted in August of last year, for help to pay for the month-long firefighting effort was recently denied by the GNWT under its Disaster Assistance Policy.
NNSL file photo

Hay River has been denied disaster assistance from the GNWT to help pay for a month-long fire at the landfill in March of 2019.

Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer told council’s Nov. 16 online meeting of the decision by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

“We received notice from that department that our application under the Disaster Assistance Policy for relief on costs associated with our landfill fire was rejected,” he said. “So it’s a disappointment for administration and council.”

Smith noted that MACA said the landfill fire, which burned from March 3-28 of last year, was not considered a disaster under its criteria, and that the health, safety and welfare of residents were not at risk by the incident.

The SAO said that was an “unfortunate decision” on an application for approximately $1 million in assistance.

Speaking to The Hub later last week, Mayor Kandis Jameson also said the town was very disappointed with MACA’s response.

Jameson said the town feels there would have been an impact on people’s health if the municipal government had done nothing to fight the fire.

“And we are required by law, by the regulatory bodies, to do the testing and that was the majority of the cost to the town,” she said, referring to water testing.

Jameson will be meeting online with MACA Minister Paulie Chinna to discuss the town’s concerns about the rejection of disaster assistance, and she will ask the minister to reconsider the decision.

The mayor added that one of the town’s concerns is why it took MACA over a year to respond to the application for disaster assistance.

“To me, that’s not acceptable,” said Jameson.

The application was submitted to the department in August of 2019.

The town received about $100,000 from its insurance for direct firefighting efforts against the landfill fire, but the insurance would not cover the $1 million in other expenses, which mostly involved water testing.

MACA spokesperson Jay Boast provided a written explanation of the department’s decision to deny the request for disaster assistance.

Boast wrote that the Disaster Assistance Policy is dependent on very specific criteria:

  • the event was an emergency;
  • damage was so widespread that a significant number of people or properties were affected;
  • the health, safety and welfare of affected residents were at risk;
  • the community conducted appropriate emergency operations and advised the deputy minister;
  • and the community, small businesses and residents made serious efforts to protect property and minimize risk.

“The Hay River dump fire event did not meet the criteria established in the Disaster Assistance Policy,” Boast stated. “After careful consideration, it was determined 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 MACA spokesperson pointed to a number of “major emergencies” that fell under the policy, including the Mackenzie Valley flood in 1989, the Sahtu fires in 1995, the Fort McPherson power outage in 2004, the Fort Good Hope flood in 2005, the Aklavik flood in 2006, the Hay River and K’atlodeeche First Nation flood in 2008, and the Nahanni Butte flood in 2012.

“MACA is aware of the potential financial challenges to the Town of Hay River as a result of the decision to deny the request for disaster assistance for the dump fire and will continue to provide guidance and support to the town in meeting its financial obligations,” Boast wrote. “Unfortunately, there are no other specific disaster funding programs available.”

As for why it took so long to respond to the town’s application, the MACA spokesperson said the consideration of requests for disaster assistance requires a series of steps.

“In this case, those steps were interfered with as a result of the 2019 election and resulting formation of a new government, and then our departments were sidetracked in addressing preparing for the Covid-19 response,” Boast explained. “This delayed the department in working the information through the process to allow a decision to be made.”

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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