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South Slave

On Vale Island, decisions come down to a disappearing highway


Hay River residents are closely watching the fortunes of a narrow strip of highway that connects Vale Island and its remaining occupants to the mainland.

The highway is the only road access in and out of the island, which has been under an evacuation order since Saturday but where some residents remain. Meanwhile, concerns are growing about a section of highway outside the town’s Merlyn Carter Airport.

The Hay River region endured yet more snow on Monday. Water levels have fluctuated rapidly around the neck of highway reaching to Vale Island.

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At the airport, some – but not all – flights continue. Air Tindi is still flying to Hay River and its 4:45pm Monday flight from Yellowknife departed on schedule, but Canadian North’s flights to the town were cancelled.

Despite Saturday’s evacuation order, many in Vale Island have been sticking it out in the hope that floodwaters retreat – against the advice of town officials, who have pleaded with stragglers to get off the island while they can.

For some residents, rising water near the airport was the final straw. Fearing highway access may be lost indefinitely, they began packing their bags.

A flooded residence near the airport on the highway near Vale Island. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio

“If that highway floods, we won’t be able to get out of here for a while,” said Marius Mccallum, who owns Mccallum Fisheries. “We’ve got lots of food here to eat, enough for a month or longer, but the point is that if it gets too bad, something else could happen. It’s better to try and get out of here and find a safe place.”

Mccallum has no place to stay yet in town but he’s worried enough to leave without a plan. In doing so, there is a lot he’ll have to leave behind.

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“I got skidoos here, Bombardier trucks… We’re going to take as much as we can. Our van, and one of the newer trucks,” he said.

A Monday afternoon GNWT report stated many Hay River tributaries have shown rapid increases in water levels over the past 48 hours, with another pulse of water expected as recent snowfall over the basin melts.

The report noted that at this time of year, water can move extremely quickly as it is unable to permeate the frozen ground.

By 5pm on Monday, the Town of Hay River said water levels in the community were “holding steady” but remained “extremely high.”

“After breaching the bank yesterday, water continues to flow over areas of Paradise Gardens,” the 5pm update stated. “High water and some property flooding is being reported for Mile 5 and other sections of the Corridor.

“More water and ice are still anticipated to connect with the main jam in town in the coming days, resulting in flooding. Water levels in northern Alberta tributaries are beginning to level off but remain higher than breakup levels.”

The town will hold a public meeting on Tuesday at 7:30pm at the community centre’s Aurora Ford Arena. “An update will be provided on monitoring and response activities with a question period to follow,” the town stated.

The town is welcoming evacuees at its community centre. More information about the town’s emergency measures can be found on its website.

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