Some Northwest Territories residents whose properties were damaged beyond repair in May’s historic flooding won’t be in new homes before the winter.
Shane Thompson, the NWT’s minister of municipal and community affairs, told Cabin Radio eight homes in Fort Simpson, population 1,200, and five or six in Jean Marie River, population 80, require outright replacement.
The territorial government had pledged to get residents “back in homes as quickly as possible” and have repairs completed “before winter sets in.”
In an update on Friday, Thompson said repairs would now be completed by November and some replacement homes for residents in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson will not arrive until early 2022.
“Residents were offered options and they have agreed that this is the way forward,” the minister said in a written statement.
“For our part, we will keep roofs over their heads until those homes are delivered and installed, and we will work to get them the support they need.”
Earlier, he told Cabin Radio those options include how the replacement homes are designed, the colours used, and similar decisions.
“With each request that they’ve asked, we’ve explained: here’s the consequences to their home,” he said.
In his written statement, he added that to “deliver on customizations that meet the long-term needs of residents, more time is needed.”
Affected residents in Fort Simpson can stay in hotels or NWT government-provided accommodation. Displaced Jean Marie River residents are at a camp just outside the community.
Farther down the Mackenzie River, several people in Fort Good Hope whose homes were affected by flooding are staying with relatives.
Thompson said the cost of running Jean Marie River’s camp and providing accommodation to affected residents is being covered by the territorial government.
The territory has also said it will foot the bill for flood-related repairs and replacement homes, a one-off move that won’t be repeated in future years. Homes at risk of flooding are being raised and relocated, the territory says.
In all, more than 60 homes and businesses in Fort Simpson and 15 in Jean Marie River were affected when the Mackenzie River flooded, according to Thompson. He said 13 homes in Fort Simpson will be renovated by the GNWT.
Initial estimates suggest addressing flood damage in Fort Simpson will cost well over $5 million.
Jean Marie River ‘all set for winter’
Jean Marie River’s camp consists of trailers with bathrooms, kitchens, and common areas. There are units for families and smaller trailers for individuals and couples.
As temporary camps go, Chief of Jean Marie River Stanley Sanguez told Cabin Radio, this one is “nice and comfortable.”
Sanguez said the community had already been informed new units would only arrive in the new year. For the time being, he said, that isn’t a concern.
“We’ve got all our people retrieved from Fort Simpson. Everyone is back home and they’re all staying in that camp,” he said.
“The ball is rolling, houses are being rebuilt, our people are in the camp, and we’ve got the food that we need. We’ve ordered water.
“We’re all set here for the winter, because the camp is going to probably have to stay here until the springtime.”
In the meantime, residents have been told to examine their old homes and salvage what they can, especially valuable items. Not all homes are accessible as some in need of demolition may contain asbestos.
Sanguez remains adamant his community will recover but less sure how long that may take.
Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said crews are still assessing fuel spills in Jean Marie River caused by floodwater.
At least three of 47 samples collected show “oil or gas above what is allowed under territorial guidelines,” Westwick said, though the community’s campground was unaffected – which had been a concern among residents.
Work to clean up the spills will start in October.
“We’re taking action quickly to remove and safely dispose of the contaminated soil to help communities get to a safe, healthy recovery,” said Westwick.
“We’re reaching out directly to residents affected by this contamination to inform them and work with them to ensure the remediation project works for them.”
Fort Simpson residents ‘realistic but hopeful’
Mayor of Fort Simpson Sean Whelly said the pace of GNWT assistance appeared to have accelerated. Some residents, he said, “have accepted” they won’t be in their homes by winter.
“I haven’t been getting a lot of complaints from people. They seem to be satisfied with what they’re being told, in general,” Whelly said.
“There does seem to be a better rollout of whatever is going to happen, and explanations seem to be forthcoming to people and homeowners about timelines and things they can expect.”
He said there “isn’t as much anxiety” in the community any more.
“I think they’re realistic but hopeful still about the timelines, and they understand that some things are going to take a little longer than maybe originally forecast,” Whelly said of Fort Simpson’s residents.
“There’s a certain realization coming on now that some people are just not going to be able to make it back [in their homes], like the people with the more major renovations or house replacements.”
Whelly hoped repairs could be finished by the end of October to beat the NWT’s truly cold winter temperatures. Thompson said November was the latest completion date and repairs may happen sooner.
“We want to push for people to be back into their homes as soon as possible and, as long as we see there’s a strong commitment to do that, I think people are willing to work with the government to see it through,” Whelly said.
He said as work progresses and temperatures get colder, “it seems that those first few weeks we lost after the flood are becoming more and more critical.”
The village’s warming shelter – located on Fort Simpson’s main island, where most flooding occurred – is still being repaired. The territorial government has provided $40,000 for the work.
Public housing affected
By email on Monday, housing minister Paulie Chinna said four affected families in Jean Marie River had been in public housing. In Fort Simpson, Chinna wrote, “no public housing units were damaged to the point where clients could not return and resume living in their homes.”
Chinna said the four public housing replacement units for Jean Marie River would arrive sooner than GNWT-ordered replacements for private homes, and are expected to be ready by November.
The housing minister said the NWT Housing Corporation has completed residential repairs related to May’s flooding. The housing corporation has so far spent $3.2 million on flood response and recovery.