Fort Simpson residents still waiting on repairs 3 months after flood

·5 min read
Fort Simpson at the height of the 2021 spring flood.  (Submitted by Jonathan Antoine - image credit)
Fort Simpson at the height of the 2021 spring flood. (Submitted by Jonathan Antoine - image credit)

As winter nears, many residents who evacuated their properties in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., after a devastating flood in May are still waiting to go home.

Speaking from his motel room, Ernest Cazon, an Elder from Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, says every morning and every night he goes to check on the house he's lived in for 29 years.

Cazon counts the days — 105 exactly — that he's been at the motel with his two children and three grandchildren, he said on Monday.

"We all want to be home, but it's so slow with the government," he said.

The territorial government announced in June that it would replace private homes damaged beyond repair with basic manufactured homes, and raise or relocate homes to prevent flood damage in the future. The government's stated goal is to get people back into their homes by winter.

The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) did not provide CBC with a detailed timeline for repairs in the community by publication time, but in an email Wednesday a spokesperson said contractors had been hired for repair work in Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River.

In a post to the government's Facebook page on Aug. 24, the territorial government said contractors started to meet Fort Simpson residents on Tuesday and met with Jean Marie River residents on Wednesday.

But Cazon said his home was ready to be repaired two-and-a-half months ago, after his son and daughter tore down wet drywall and insulation, and a company dried out the space.

During a visit from the government around that time, Cazon said he learned that the final repair was put out to tender by the government. But he says the process is taking too long and there are better solutions.

"It's not even that big a job. It's like, give me the money and I'll hire one of the local contractors to finish it," he said.

"[Government officials] don't care because they go home every night … but I come to a motel. [It] doesn't seem right."

Repairs on the way

There are two separate processes for repairs: residents can decide to manage their own repairs or have the N.W.T. government manage repairs for them, said MACA spokesperson Jay Boast.

While the territorial government is not involved in delays where people are managing their own repairs, "the GNWT recognizes that this year's unprecedented flooding has created many challenges resulting in some delays where the GNWT is managing repairs."

Boast said some residents were more affected by the flood than others, and that the government is "treating all impacted residents consistently and fairly, regardless of their level of impact."

Boast said "this may have generated some frustration for residents that only requires minor repairs before returning to their home."

Until then, the government is paying for accommodations and meal costs until residents can go home.

The department has secured a contractor to complete repair work in Fort Simpson. Now that crews are mobilized, the government will soon have a better understanding of the total value of repairs, he said.

'In a mad rush'

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

Another Fort Simpson homeowner, Derek Erasmus, said he's grateful for the territorial government's decision to pay for repairs and he and his family want to stay optimistic. A contractor visited his house Wednesday.

But he said there has been a "very, very slow response" to flood damage in the community, and it's not entirely clear what's taken so long.

"A lot of people in the community are probably also frustrated because it's fall time now, it's getting colder, and it seems like the whole summer kind of went by without an awful lot happening and now we're in a mad rush."

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

Erasmus said that while there are some jobs that can be done by local contractors, the sheer number of repairs means outside labour will have to be called in.

"We just don't really have the manpower here to … take on a project like this. The government is committed to getting everything done by the end of October."

Erasmus counts himself lucky that they have a comfortable place to stay with family members, but some of the flood victims are having difficulty finding a place to stay due to a shortage of rental units and infrastructure damage.

Repair delays 'almost a knockout'

Submitted: Dennis Nelner
Submitted: Dennis Nelner

Dennis Nelner isn't out of a place to live, but he is still paying a mortgage on a rental property that was badly damaged.

That's another property in Fort Simpson not available in a community already short on housing.

Nelner said it's all taking a toll on people who are in cramped quarters staying with family, and the stress and anxiety is "mentally taxing" the community.

People who were unhoused before the flood have lost all of their winter gear and couch surfers have even fewer places to stay, he said.

"How strong can a person be," he asked. "This is a lot of blows on the chin. This is almost a knockout."

He plans to submit what he thinks are more equitable solutions to the premier and minister.

"This is an extraordinary event so you can't just call the rule book on this," he said.

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