The city is taking the first steps toward acquiring land along the Con Mine shoreline to put in a new boat launch.
Giant Mine remediation, slated to begin sometime in 2021, proposes cutting off access to the current city boat lunch, many have raised concerns about what alternatives the city will pursue.
Natalie Plato, deputy director of the Giant Mine Project Team, attended the after a governance and priorities committee meeting on March 4 to give updates on the remediation process. Under questioning from councillors, she confirmed that they will need access to the boat launch area and have been meeting with city administration "at least once a month" about the issue.
City administration has been exploring various alternatives for setting up waterfront access since it received notice of the remediation plans. Administration is currently proposing that the city acquires a series of lots, some surveyed and some not, from the GNWT directly around the Con Mine dock to begin developing the land for public access.
“This is the start of the process and it is our intent to seek the title of these lots from the GNWT so we can get underway in ensuring we've got a boat launch that's ready to go well in advance of any closure,” said Shelia Bassi-Kellett, the city's senior administrative officer.
Administration noted that shore usage by Great Slave Sailing Club and the Yellowknife Historical Society are considered a separate issue. Acquiring these lots would only be for the purposes of a public boat launch.
Bassi-Kellett and Nalini Naidoo, director of planning and development, said this is only the first step in a long process with no guarantees when it comes to acquiring the land.
"This memo is the first step to say, as a city, we would like to acquire the land," said Naidoo.
All other steps, including surveying of some lots and possible regrading of land are all taken into consideration further down the line.
"If there's any issues relating to the condition of the land, the issues will have to be sorted out eventually but only after acquisition has taken place," Naidoo said
"The city has an opportunity to say 'here's an option for public to access to the waterfront' and we need to do whatever we can to get the public access."
The big ask
The city will be making it clear that it wants title of the land. It is within municipality limits and there is a clear desire and need for the city to have the land. But, as a secondary option, they will be exploring obtaining a lease while surveys are completed and possibly lease to own.
Coun. Niels Konge was not supportive of the idea of obtaining land from the GNWT on lease.
“Frankly I won't support these bylaws as worded," he said.
"I am not interested in Yellowknife obtaining leased land. It just offloads angry people here to the city," said Konge. "We require this land for our future development, but lease-hold interest is a pain in the you-know-what."
Konge suggested a rewording the memo to present a take it or leave it scenario, while administration and other councillors responded that it may not be the time to dig their heels in.
“We absolutely hear council loud and clear on this, but the flexibility to entertain a lease to own could be very strategic and be in the best interest of the city at this time,” said Bassi-Kellett.
The bylaws could be reworded to an "acquisition and disposal", which would include leasing or gaining ownership of the land.
"We could dig our heels in, or we can work with the government to try to get this lease, turn it into fee-simple," said Mayor Rebecca Alty. "But, because I see this as maintaining it for public use, fee-simple or title works for me."
Alty agreed with possibly changing the wording of the bylaw to simply "acquiring" the land and noted that when talking to the GNWT, expand the discussion beyond the boat launch and include other objectives outline in the city's 2012 Harbour Plan.
The 2012 plan includes several initiatives from maintaining natural heritage sites, implementing public parks and open space as well as a mine-to-mine walking trail.
"We need to be clear that there are not very many points of access on (Great Slave Lake) that have the depth of water that many of our boat owners need to be able to launch their boats, this is an essential spot for us," said Bassi-Kellett.
In previous years, the city explored opening a marina at the mouth of the Dettah Ice road but found that, like many other points of access around Yellowknife, the water is too shallow or unsuitable for a boat launch.
"It's not often where you'll see the city owning the foreshore lands and having an opportunity to get the shoreline," said Naidoo.
"We're not dealing with unimaginable obstacles. We have an opportunity to do this right, why don't we take a chance and do it."