Town firefighters were called away from their homes to stop a fire started in vacant building from burning out of control last week.
Fortunately the fire was stopped before anything serious happened. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Earlier this year, people weren’t so lucky when one of two vacant row houses on Kugmalit Road was ignited by a group of kids in the middle of the night.
Smoke from the burning structure billowed over the surrounding neighbourhood, carrying any toxins from the structure with it over playgrounds, into homes and potentially people’s lungs. After the building was demolished, the ruins of the structure sat for close to a month while the town navigated the bureaucracy to ensure it was disposed of properly.
And had the fire not been caught when it was, things could have been significantly worse.
I’m not sure exactly how many buildings in Inuvik are sitting empty, but by the look of things there’s a lot. As winter begins to set in, those empty buildings will make attractive shelter for anyone — or anything — trying to escape the elements.
So I for one am in favour of two bylaws before council this month that will enable the town to crack down on derelict properties. Enough is enough.
Certainly some concern could be raised about the scope of bylaws — effectively allowing the town’s protective services to enter any property suspected of being a danger or eyesore. However, those concerns were brought up almost immediately in Town Council’s Sept. 28 committee of the whole meeting and the town administration assured council any such decision would be documented like any other official investigation.
I can’t say for certain how much tax revenue these empty buildings generate for the town, though I would not expect it to be a lot. In contrast, property taxes for people who live and work here only go in one direction as inflation drives costs ever-higher.
Every time our fire department gets called out to put out one of these vacant property fires, it costs the town a lot of money to run the apparatus, close down areas, put out public notices and conduct an investigation.
It also risks the volunteers who are putting their lives on the line to stop an empty house no one wants from burning down and potentially catching other people’s homes on fire.
Obviously that cost gets forwarded to taxpayers, who seem forever on the hook to fix the problems caused by property owners who, in many cases, aren’t even living here anymore.
As Mayor Natasha Kulikowski put it, these bylaws give the town some teeth to take a bite out of this problem. Enabling the town to identify problem buildings and do something about them before they ignite will save time, money and potentially even lives.
Councillors have sent the two bylaws back to committee to ensure they’re consistent in language and requirements. Personally, I think the bylaws themselves are quite fair.
Chances are the people these laws are targeting know who they are already anyway.