Hay River has been denied disaster financial assistance to meet the costs of a 2019 fire at the town’s landfill on the grounds the fire does not meet the NWT government’s definition of a disaster.
Town senior administrator Glenn Smith last week told councillors a funding application to the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca) had been denied, calling it a “disappointment for administration and council.”
An incident must meet several Maca criteria to be termed a disaster, allowing the release of funding. The event must be an emergency, damage must affect a significant number of people or properties, and the health, safety and welfare of residents must be at risk.
The town must also prove it conducted appropriate emergency operations, advised the deputy minister, the community, small businesses and residents, and made serious efforts to protect property and minimize risk.
Maca, rejecting Hay River’s application, said the landfill fire did not meet the threshold for funding.
“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,” a Maca spokesperson told Cabin Radio by email.
Mayor of Hay River Kandis Jameson disagrees.
Since the fire, she argues, the town has had to complete regulatory duties like monitoring the local watershed.
“These requirements, by nature, are in place for the health, safety and welfare of our residents. That’s why we made the application to the department to begin with,” Jameson said.
“That’s my concern: how does this not fit your disaster assistance policy when we don’t have an option. We have to perform these tests.”
Maca says disaster funding has been granted on several occasions in the past 30 years, often in response to flooding in communities like Nahanni Butte, Hay River, Aklavik, and Fort Good Hope.
The funding was also used in response to a Fort McPherson power outage in 2004 and Sahtu fires in 1995.
New landfill also needed
Expenses related to the fire were initially estimated at around $550,000. Jameson says the total has come in above that.
The Town of Hay River applied for the funding in August 2019.
Maca says the decision took more than a year as October 2019’s territorial election and the formation of a new government delayed the consideration process, as did the NWT’s Covid-19 response this year.
Jameson says the town has been told it needs to build a new landfill because the existing one is outdated.
A new landfill, however, does not come with a small price tag.
“We want to remediate that landfill and we want to open a new one,” she said.
“When you’ve got that kind of cost to the taxpayers, you want to make sure it’s an opportunity to ensure that that doesn’t happen again.”
The mayor said the town has identified ways to move forward, but needs Maca’s support and some funding to make things happen.
A meeting between Jameson and Maca’s minister, Paulie Chinna, is planned for December to discuss the landfill decision and next steps.
Jameson hopes Maca will support a town bid for federal funding to help construction of a new landfill.
A Maca spokesperson told Cabin Radio the department is aware of the challenges Hay River faces, as there are no other disaster funding programs available.
“All governments face unplanned expenditures and needs that exceed their available funding,” the spokesperson said by email.
“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.”