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Yellowknife

Minister backtracks in Ingraham Trail fire coverage debate


An NWT minister says she misspoke in suggesting Ingraham Trail residents had already been consulted about a last-minute bid to figure out fire coverage for the region. So far, they have not.

The City of Yellowknife is set to stop responding to fires along the trail, north of Yellowknife, on April 1, saying it spreads resources too thinly and consequently endangers residents inside its municipal boundary.

At the moment, there is no plan for any form of coverage to replace the city’s firefighters.

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In the legislature on Tuesday, municipal and community affairs minister Paulie Chinna suggested the issue was no closer to being resolved – and added residents had still to be asked what they thought of the various options, five weeks from losing fire coverage.

Earlier in February, Chinna had told the legislature “conversations are still happening … with the people at Ingraham Trail” and “there was a consultation that was just recently completed.”

On Tuesday, under questioning from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, Chinna said: “That is a correction, there was no engagement that had been done yet.”

Two weeks ago, Chinna’s deputy minister – Eleanor Young – told Cabin Radio she was sure an interim solution, if not a long-term fix, would be in place for trail residents by April.

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This week, however, Chinna did not sound certain of that. Twice asked whether her department had made the City of Yellowknife an offer to continue fire coverage beyond April 1 on an interim basis, Chinna did not directly answer.

“We are very conscious of April 1,” the minister said.

“We’re looking also at the financial implications that this may have for our residents within the Ingraham Trail and how are we going to pay for the service.”

Though Chinna said she had committed to finding a solution by April 1 and promised her department was “working diligently,” department director of corporate affairs Gary Schauerte set out a timeline that stretched well beyond April 1.

“Our intention is, in the month of March, to go out and use a variety of tactics to talk to residents,” said Schauerte, adding large gatherings would have to be avoided because of Covi-19.

“Following that,” he continued, “we expect to be putting together some type of summary document. I would expect that to happen in the late spring.

“Emergency services on the Ingraham Trail appear to be a very costly option. There are no easy solutions. We’re not quite sure what we’re going to hear from the residents on this.”

Residents are to be asked what kind of service they want, how the service should be paid for, and how it should be provided.

The level of service offered could range from paying the city to carry on fighting fires through to homeowners having no fire service but using more protective measures.

Payment could be a form of taxation or a pay-per-use model.

In the longer term, training Dettah’s firefighters and giving them the right equipment is also possible.

Yellowknife North MLA Johnson, who represents Ingraham Trail residents, sounded exasperated as he pressed Chinna.

“People’s insurance is either going to expire or go up on April 1. I have repeatedly said that the only possible solution now – and I don’t even know if it is possible – would be an agreement with the City of Yellowknife,” Johnson said.

“We’re in the last week of February and I’m hearing that an engagement plan is just going to be started.

“I’ve asked this repeatedly and I’ve repeatedly been told that by April 1 we’d have a solution. I’m not hearing anything that leads me to believe this is now true. Have we not even made an offer to the city? I just, in the next five weeks, want to understand what has happened with the city and what will happen with the city.”

In response, Chinna said that was “a conversation we’ve been having with the city” and offered to provide more information, but did not do so publicly.

“This is a conversation that is happening currently,” Chinna said.

“I don’t want to put anybody to commitment, but the conversations are happening.”

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