The territorial government is confident a plan to offer some form of fire coverage to Ingraham Trail residents will be in place by April 1, when the City of Yellowknife plans to pull out.
The city says it will stop responding to fires on the trail, north of its municipal boundary, on that date. At the moment there is no backup plan for any of the hundreds of residents along the trail, also known as Highway 4.
The NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca) is tasked with figuring out how fires on the trail will be dealt with once the city’s support ends.
Yellowknife says it has to pull out as responding to faraway fires can endanger residents within the municipality by thinly spreading resources.
Maca’s deputy minister, Eleanor Young, told Cabin Radio her department was now preparing to ask trail residents for their feedback on a range of options.
That work will have to be rushed to completion with just weeks remaining before the deadline. In a reminder of what is at stake, a shop building burned to the ground last week at the trail’s Prelude Lake West.
“There may be an interim solution and a long-term solution depending what kind of response we get,” Young said, adding she was sure an interim arrangement could be reached by April 1.
Maca expects to begin meeting with Ingraham Trail residents at the end of February.
Young said three questions will be asked of residents: what kind of service they want, how the service should be paid for, and how it should be provided.
“We need to understand what it is they would like us to do so we can put a solution in place,” she said.
The level of service offered, for example, could range from finding a way to maintain access to the City of Yellowknife’s full firefighting service, through to homeowners having no fire service but using more protective measures around their lots.
The cost could come as a form of taxation or become a pay-per-use model. Putting a tax in place to cover the cost of fire service may require the use of legislation, which would take time to arrange.
Provision of the service could range from getting the help of another community, like Yellowknife or Dettah, through to creating a new organization – or, as was at least half-jokingly suggested by Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson in the fall, creating a hamlet. (Which would also mean electing a council and having to bear responsibility for services like those related to water and sewer provision.)
Maca itself does not provide fire service to any NWT communities, Young stressed, but instead provides funding to community governments so that they can provide the service.
She added Maca would also look to address what she termed “a misunderstanding” about what property taxes and lease payments actually fund.
“We plan to go out and have conversations to understand what it is they’re looking for and what they understand they currently pay for,” she said of the Ingraham Trail’s residents.
Dettah could be long-term answer
There has been some enthusiasm – for example, that expressed by Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn – for Dettah’s firefighters to eventually take on responsibility for the trail.
Young said the community would need to develop its capacity first, but could ultimately be an option.
“We and Dettah together need to do some development of their firefighting services to provide more far-ranging service,” she said.
“Dettah, right now, does rely on Yellowknife for some of its services, but we could put a training plan and a capital plan in place with the community to achieve that.
“They may not be the solution on April 1 but they might be the solution a year or two from now, with some plans put in place to get us there.”
Any solution devised will have ramifications beyond Highway 4, Young added. There are other areas of the NWT where residents are in similar situations, for example outside Inuvik and Norman Wells.
“We’re very aware that what we’re looking at here, we also need to be able to consider anywhere else in the territory where we have residents living outside the municipal boundary,” Young said.