The NWT government has walked back an earlier pledge that Fort Smith residents would receive two separate travel payments over their back-to-back evacuations.
Fort Smith was placed under an evacuation order on August 12, with all residents told to make for Hay River. The following day, Hay River was placed under an evacuation order that, by default, swept up Fort Smith evacuees in the town and ordered them to head for Alberta.
As a result, Fort Smith’s residents technically took part in two entirely separate evacuations – spurred by separate wildfires – in the space of 24 hours.
On Saturday, August 26, a GNWT spokesperson said the territory’s evacuee travel funding would be “per event.”
If someone drove from Fort Smith for another NWT community, that would be a $400 payment, the spokesperson wrote to Cabin Radio. If that person then drove from the other community to Alberta, they would receive a further $750. (The territory is offering $400 for evacuations by vehicle within its borders, and $750 if residents drove to a southern jurisdiction.)
But on Wednesday evening, after some evacuees said their claims following that guidance were being partly denied, the territorial government fully reversed its position.
The territory “has made the decision to categorize the evacuation from Fort Smith to Hay River, and then from Hay River out of the territory, as a single event to ensure that all evacuees are treated in a consistent manner,” a GNWT statement to Cabin Radio read after being asked to clarify. (The GNWT initially said its Emergency Management Organization had made the decision but, after this article was first published, said the decision was actually taken by the Department of Finance.)
“This decision considers the continuity and proximity of the events, ensuring that those evacuating from multiple locations in quick succession due to the same overarching circumstance aren’t unduly advantaged over others who may have evacuated directly,” the statement continued.
The decision has the effect of immediately removing a $400 payment per vehicle that all Fort Smith evacuees had been led to believe they would receive for the trip to Hay River. Any evacuee departing Fort Smith before the afternoon of August 13 would not have known a separate evacuation was incoming.
“It should be noted that residents who evacuated as a result of spring flooding, and then again as a part of a separate wildfire-related event later in the summer, will qualify for two payments under this program,” the territorial government statement continued.
“Our goal is to ensure that all residents affected by emergency events receive support in a manner that’s equitable and just. While we understand that every evacuation is unique and poses its own set of challenges, it is essential for us to adopt a standardized approach to ensure fairness across the board.
“We regret any confusion or misunderstanding that may have arisen and appreciate your patience as we strive to provide the best possible support to all those affected.”