The cost of a stubborn dump fire in Hay River that burned for most of March continues to rise.
It is now closing in on $1 million.
That’s the possible final price tag, according to Judy Goucher, the senior administrative officer with the Town of Hay River.
“It’s an estimate. But a reasonable estimate would be about $1 million, less $100,000 in insurance,” she said.
At the moment, the total expense has reached about $900,000, but is still rising because of ongoing water sampling, Goucher explained.
“Because of the landfill fire, we are required to do more sampling than previously. And a large part of the expense is the lab work associated with getting professional personnel in to do the sampling, the lab testing of the sampling, and just ensuring on an ongoing basis we’re providing everyone with assurance that there are no ongoing negative impacts as a result.”
She predicted the extra sampling will taper off to a regular sampling program in accordance with the town’s water licence.
Goucher told town council on Aug. 13 that confirmation has been received from the town’s insurers that they will pay $100,000 related to fighting the landfill fire, which burned from March 3 to March 28.
However, she told council there was no insurance coverage for costs associated with monitoring and mitigating an environmental incident, because the insurers have determined there was no environmental incident.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, there was no environmental incident and, as a result, there were no insurable costs under our environmental insurance,” said Goucher.
With the amount coming from insurance determined, the town submitted an application on Aug. 13 for support from the GNWT’s Disaster Assistance Policy.
Goucher told council that town administration is hopeful that territorial government support could address the gap between insurance and the town’s ability to cover the cost of the fire.
The SAO told The Hub that covering the cost of the fire, aside from the insurance coverage, would be “very difficult” for the town to absorb internally.
“So we’re looking for a positive response from them under their policy,” she said of the application to the GNWT. “That process has now been initiated now that we’ve heard back from all of our insurers in terms of what they are willing to do.”
Goucher said all of the town’s environmental work was tied to monitoring and mitigating an environmental incident.
There were definitely environmental aspects associated with the fire, such as air quality, she noted.
“But in terms of meeting the insurance test of coverage, ultimately the determination was that it did not fall under insurance,” she said.
Goucher is optimistic the territorial government will give serious consideration to the disaster assistance application, since the costs related to making sure the environment was protected, that the water supply was protected, and that the fire was addressed as quickly as possible.
“We’re hoping that the territorial government’s program will basically fill that void because, in our opinion, this definitely fits into the criteria of their disaster assistance program,” she said. “It’s a material expense.”
The alternative was not an option in terms of letting the fire burn out of control, she said.
“We certainly did take prudent steps in our approach. I don’t think anyone would deny that,” she said.
Goucher has heard from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) that it is unlikely the current minister or cabinet will consider the application, and the decision will go to the next minister and cabinet after the fall election.
“Obviously from our perspective, a favourable response sooner would be ideal,” said Goucher. “We appreciate that the current government is in the twilight of their session. They have firsthand knowledge of it. Whereas a new government may or may not.”
Kevin Brezinski, the director of public safety with MACA, said the department received the town’s application on Aug. 14.
“Once a request of this nature is received with the requisite council motion, it’s then the responsibility of the minister of MACA to consider the request and to recommend to cabinet whether the request be approved or denied, and, of course, there’s lots of factors in that,” he said, mentioning a review of the application and a recommendation from department officials.
The final say rests with cabinet.
Brezinski also said the decision will be made by the next cabinet, adding MACA has been transparent with Hay River about that process.
“They’re well aware that we’ve got some constraints there,” he said, “It certainly won’t be forgotten and it won’t get lost in the mix. It’s something we’ll continue to work on over the transition period and it will likely be advanced to the new government very, very early in their term.”