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Peaceful waters

Smoothing of relations makes life on the water more attractive

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 01/01) - The warming of relations between houseboaters and the city has led to a mini-building boom on the water.

With the floor framing on the floatation system, the houseboat being built by Alan Ehrlich and Kirsten Larsen was ready, earlier this summer, to be lifted into the water. The home is one of three added to the houseboat fleet this year. - Robert Dall/NNSL photo

Three more homes are going up in the floating community around Jolliffe Island this summer.

One of the most unique houseboats is being built by a couple who is hoping to up the already environmentally-friendly lifestyle a notch.

Kirsten Larsen and Alan Ehrlich are building a 650-square-foot home at the north end of Jolliffe Island.

"It's partly live-in and partly a demonstration project," said Ehrlich.

Ehrlich said living in a rented houseboat on the bay for two years was an eye-opener in terms of the potential energy available for free.

"I never expected photo voltaic would be so easy," he said, referring to the solar panels most houseboats rely on to supplement their energy. "It just wasn't a hassle at all."

Ehrlich and Larsen are incorporating a number of innovations into their home, including a vented fridge and freezer that will use winter's cold instead of energy and a passive air conditioning system making use of the cool lake water.

In addition to a photo voltaic solar array, the house will incorporate passive solar heating.

Ehrlich and Larsen plan to highlight their home on a Web site and offer school tours of it when possible.

During the second half of the 1990s, the city attempted to assert jurisdiction over houseboats through court actions against individual houseboat owners. Since then, city hall has adopted a new attitude toward houseboats.

"They're outside our jurisdiction," said Mayor Gord Van Tighem. "We now see them as a unique alternative living situation and a tourist attraction."

The only group with jurisdiction over the houseboaters is the Canadian Coast Guard.

"As long as they're not blocking the navigable waterways, we don't have anything to do with them," said Tom Mahar of the Coast Guard's Hay River office.

The lake bed, which the territorial government has tried to tax in the past, is administered by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

"Houseboats are considered vessels, so there's no type of regulatory authority they require from DIAND," said Annette McRoberts of the department's regional land administration office.

A move by the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to have the lake bed transferred to the territorial government was abandoned.

"It was not a priority for us to invest the time and effort it would take to amend several pieces of legislation," said MACA's Gay Kennedy.

Amendments to 14 territorial laws would have been required, along with consultation between the federal and territorial governments and the Yellowknives Dene.