Disaster assistance plan announced nearly 2 months after 'unprecedented damage' in Hay River

Photo taken on the evening of May 12, one day after Hay River's downtown area suffered major flooding.  (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
Photo taken on the evening of May 12, one day after Hay River's downtown area suffered major flooding. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)

The Northwest Territories government announced its disaster assistance plan for Hay River and the K'atl'odeeche First Nations Reserve in a virtual briefing Tuesday morning.

The announcement comes nearly two months after flooding caused extensive damage throughout the town, and residents were placed under an evacuation order.

In the briefing, neither Shane Thompson, N.W.T.'s minister of municipal and community affairs, nor Deputy Minister Laura Gareau, knew how many people were still displaced.

"That is a number we're hoping to get a better handle on in the next little bit," said Gareau.

Both Thompson and Gareau outlined changes to the N.W.T's Disaster Assistance Policy.

Under its previous terms, eligible claims were reimbursed at 80 per cent – up to a maximum of $100,000. Now, the policy will reimburse 90 per cent of total eligible costs – up to a maximum of $240,000.

Thompson said that the territorial government is providing additional support to residents of Hay River, "due to unprecedented damage," and the high number of people impacted by this year's flooding.

For Hay River residents:

  • The first $240,000 of eligible claims will be reimbursed at 100 per cent.

  • After $240,000, claims will be reimbursed at 50 per cent – up to a maximum of $600,000.

  • Residents are eligible to receive an additional $75,000 for flood mitigation measures.

Thompson said that the program is available to residents and businesses that won't receive assistance through an insurance provider.

Although the territory will be increasing funding through the Disaster Assistance Policy, Gareau said it's "not intended to provide full compensation" and "is limited to replacing essential items."


Updated policy addresses 'gaps and inefficiencies' 

Gareau said that amendments to the policy "address gaps and inefficiencies" that became apparent during the 2021 flood season.

After the 2021 flooding in Fort Simpson, some residents said that the Disaster Assistance Program was overly complicated and too slow.

Thompson said that the policy –  which has been around since 1981 –  is now being treated "like a live document."

"Every year, as disasters happen or don't happen, we look at our policy to see how we can better improve."

Residents waiting on money

The approach was announced to Hay River residents in a town hall meeting Monday night, which had close to 100 people in attendance.

"The big question [residents had] is when we were going to get the money to them, and we explained the process," said Thompson. "So, they're just waiting for it."

Gareau said they have received a total of 408 registrations for disaster assistance from residents and small businesses of both Hay River and the K'atl'odeeche First Nations Reserve.

"We are doing detailed damage assessments and we are aware that there are some structures that are likely damaged beyond repair," she said, adding that between 350 to 360 detailed damage assessments have been completed.

Approximately 74 per cent of assessments average $120,000, and 26 per cent have damage over $240,000.

Gareau did not know how many residents had received assistance.

Carla Ulrich/CBC
Carla Ulrich/CBC

"People were waiting for those detailed damage assessments to be able to start applying," she said.

Residents can apply for advance funding after completing a detailed damage assessment. "It will take anywhere from 7 to 10 days for advance assistance to be provided … once we've received a completed application," said Gareau.

The disaster assistance program will be open until Dec. 31, 2023.

"This is to give the N.W.T. community, governments, residents and small businesses two construction seasons to undertake repairs and then for everyone to file disaster assistance claims," said Gareau.

Total amount of damages not finalized

A recent report released by Glenn Smith, Hay River's senior administrative officer, stated that the community had a total of $52 million in damages to be repaired.

But the minister and deputy minister said that number had not been finalized.

"At this time the N.W.T. does not have a final estimate," said Gareau. She added the territory has been meeting regularly with Smith and town representatives, and that it's aware of the working estimate they have.

"We'll certainly be continuing to work with them and to assist them with refining their numbers and confirming what the actual damage is," Gareau said.