Flood recovery cost in northern Canadian community expected to top $174 million

Spring flooding severely damaged houses, roads and key infrastructure in Hay River, N.W.T., and the surrounding area. The territorial government is projecting recovery will cost more than $174 million, according to a report tabled in the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly last week. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

MLAs say most of the costs are likely to be reimbursed from federal government

The N.W.T. government says it expects flood recovery for Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche Fırst Nation to cost more than $174 million.

That figure comes from a report tabled last week in the Legislative Assembly.

The report shows the government expects to spend $112.4 million by the end of this fiscal year, and an additional $61.7 million over the next fiscal year, to cover damages and losses from the flood that swept through those communities this past spring.

The town, along with surrounding First Nations, experienced historic flooding in May that forced residents to evacuate. Floodwaters damaged roads, homes and key infrastructure — like water treatment plant lines and the landfill.

Initial estimates were $52 million

The latest cost estimate from the territory is substantially higher than estimates the Town of Hay River released in June. At that time, the town estimated repairs and flood mitigation together would cost about $52 million.

At the time, Hay River senior administrative officer Glenn Smith said he expected the territory would cover about $23 million through the disaster assistance fund and the town would bear the remaining costs.

The territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) did not respond to questions about who would foot the bill prior to deadline, and neither did Public Safety Canada.

Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson could not be reached for comment.

Rocky Simpson, the MLA for Hay River South, said he expects the federal government will pay for “a good portion” of the costs and that the territorial government would cover “a smaller portion.”

He expects it to be a 90/10 split.

Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, expects the final flooding recovery costs to be even higher than the projected $174 million. He anticipates the total will be closer to $200 million. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Simpson also said he expects final costs to come in closer to $200 million, though he said those numbers won’t be known until at least next year.

In a tweet, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson addressed the high price tag, saying the territorial government can generally gets 85 to 90 per cent of such costs reimbursed from the federal government.

Johnson added it can years for the federal government to repay the territory. It means the territory borrows “hundreds of millions against our debt limit,” meaning it has to forgo other projects.

Flood recovery ‘going as good as it can’

Simpson told CBC News the flooding cleanup “is going as good as it can.”

He said residents are struggling to find contractors to do repair work.

Even when there are available contractors, Simpson said there’s a lack of available accommodations for anyone from out of town.

He also said some residents are struggling to get necessary repairs since they’re expected to pay upfront costs and later be reimbursed by the territorial government.

In Tuesday’s sitting of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, he pressed MACA Minister Shane Thompson on options for residents having to take out loans or second mortgages ahead of the government’s reimbursement.

Thompson said residents should contact pathfinders for guidance on “their unique situations.”

Thompson said there are four pathfinders in Hay River and two in Yellowknife.

Related stories from around the North: 

United States: Flood waters receding after storm batters western Alaska, The Associated Press

Natalie Pressman, CBC News

Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at natalie.pressman@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @natpressman.

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