Northern Alberta town lobbies for emergency response facility
A northern Alberta town that has housed thousands of evacuees in recent years is lobbying the province to get a special facility to better serve people who have had to flee their homes for natural disasters.
Rising floodwaters in northern Alberta have forced residents to evacuate their home communities this month.
The flooding in Chateh displaced 1,100 people, many of whom evacuated to High Level. The town has about 1,000 hotel rooms.
High Level serves as an emergency centre for the northwest region of the province and has been hosting evacuees for the past two decades.
"We have the regional hospital, the hotel rooms, the airports," Crystal McAteer, mayor of High Level, told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Thursday. "So it is the place the first responders stay at and evacuees."
Now, the town is advocating for a multi-purpose facility that doubles up as an emergency response and evacuation centre.
"We feel we are in the best position to host our evacuees from around the area, because we have interpreters here who speak Dene, they speak Beaver, they speak Cree," McAteer said.
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McAteer said the facility would mean the world to the community and could host up to 2,000 people.
Inside, the centre would have rooms for evacuees to stay in, medical rooms, and even space for animals. There will also be room for community members to practice their culture, she said.
The town is partnering up with the Dene Tha' First Nation community to pitch the project.
The two communities – Dene Tha' First Nation and High Level – applied for funding from the federal and the provincial government as a joint effort.
"We applied for the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings Program and we were told that we meet the criteria but the program is fully subscribed," McAteer said.
"They don't know when they're going to announce who gets the money."
High Level is seeking about $35 million for the project.
McAteer said the town has been lobbying for funding for three years.
"Such projects are eligible for funding under both the Municipal Sustainability Initiative and the Canada Community-Building Fund programs," said Scott Johnston, press secretary for municipal affairs.
"We have advised the town that they may consider using both programs to support the eligible costs of the new facility, and will continue working regularly with High Level on disaster mitigation strategies."
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Evacuation point in the northwest region
Since 2003, High Level has been serving as an evacuation point during floods and fires, which have become an annual occurrence in recent years.
As they have done in the past, the town is once again helping its neighbouring communities by offering them shelter and food during widespread flooding in and around Chateh.
Chief James Ahnassay from the Dene Tha' First Nation said the displacement was mentally challenging.
"This time round was much worse than what we had last year," he said.
This is the Chateh community's third year of evacuations.
McAteer is hoping the plan for the multi-purpose facility will convince the provincial and federal governments to fund the project.