EDITORIAL: Wild West on Great Slave Lake

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For good or bad, Yellowknife has come a long way in shedding its frontier image in recent years.The streets are paved – except during construction season — and honey buckets are largely a thing of the past. The final frontier these days seems largely confined to the shoreline and on the water.

Boaters are not licensed, nor are houseboats or really most boats for that matter. On the North Arm of Great Slave Lake there are dozens, if not hundreds, of unregulated cabins on the shore.

Last week, we reported that a number of residents want a derelict houseboat removed from its mouldering resting place near the Giant Mine boat launch on Back Bay. They were concerned because it is an eyesore and an environmental hazard.

A city-led harbour agency could establish standards so people would know who to turn to should a derelict houseboat turn up on the shore. NNSL file photo

Theoretically, Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard – both of them federal bodies – are the go-to agencies for regulating houseboats but they have been so historically moribund we can only conclude that calling them about such matters would be a waste a time. And who do you talk to anyway? DFO’s regional headquarters for the Arctic is in Sarnia, Ont.

The last time houseboats at Giant Mine were an issue the feds didn’t do very much other than have a look around. In 2013, there was a whole houseboat-building cottage industry going on at the boat launch parking lot (city property) and a houseboat community at the mouth of Baker Creek (Commissioner’s land).

The city initially refused to do anything, citing jurisdictional confusion between different governing bodies. Eventually, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs stepped in to give the houseboaters the boot, with a couple of them simply picking up and moving to other parts of Yellowknife Bay.

At the time there was much talk about the Yellowknife Harbour Plan – a glossy-looking artifact with illustrated pictures showing people strolling by boardwalk boutiques in the Woodyard.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada gave the city $400,000 to set up a harbour planning committee with a goal of eventually forming a harbour authority – led by the city but with the blessing of multiple governing bodies and the Yellowknives Dene.

As far as we can tell the harbour plan has been firmly parked on a shelf somewhere and the committee and the harbour authority idea have long since expired.

This is where we stand today. A whole lot of nothing but wasted money and time.

A harbour authority, backed by all the governmental and First Nations players in the area, actually makes a lot of sense and sure beats calling up Sarnia, Ont., to get anything done around here.

Hopefully the city will have the good sense – and the acumen to bring together all the various parties – to try and revive it.

Not that we don’t appreciate houseboats. The houseboats on Yellowknife Bay are a municipal treasure. Alas, as libertarians of the sea, the houseboaters want zero regulation, which is fine until there’s a derelict hulk out on the water and nobody comes forward to take responsibility.

This is the dilemma we’re in and the reason why eventually government is going to have to get real and do something about it.

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