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Village seeks help with erosion
Fort Simpson-sponsored resolution appears on NWT Association of Communities docket pushing for GNWT funding to assist with problem

Stewart Burnett
Northern News Services
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fort Simpson is hoping communities across the territory will band together and lobby the GNWT for some sort of plan or funding to tackle riverbank erosion.

NNSL photo/graphic

Fort Simpson is hoping the territorial government will step in to help with its riverbank erosion problem. Ice from spring breakup gouges the bank more and more each year. - Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

A recent study on Fort Simpson's erosion pinned possible solutions at upward of $30 million. In response to findings in the report the village sponsored a resolution on the NWT Association of Communities docket that, if passed, could influence the territorial government to step in with aid.

"We haven't got any money in that kind of range to do any work, so really nothing is happening," said Mayor Sean Whelly.

Whelly called the previous study "rudimentary estimates" but said it does give the idea that if the village is going to tackle the issue in any way, it needs not only more funding but more research into how big the problem really is. Whelly hopes to lobby the GNWT to start monitoring the riverbank as a starting point.

"We don't have any engineers looking at this on an annual basis," said Whelly, adding that baseline studies of the erosion could inform the village how long it has to move infrastructure back or come up with a back-up plan.

"After every high water spring breakup, it should be looked at to see how much erosion is occurring in different areas. Even money for that, continuing observations so that we have more lead time, is something we would look to the territorial government to obtain."

Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche said any plans or funding would have to wait for the new government after territorial elections later this year. He said Nahanni Butte faces a similar issue to Fort Simpson.

"It's a concern that should be addressed in the near future," he said.

Menicoche recalls the federal government helping the community of Tuktoyaktuk with shoreline erosion about 20 years ago.

"But there are no more federal shoreline erosion programming dollars," he said.

As MLA and a resident of Fort Simpson, Menicoche said it's something he's watched become an increasing concern every year.

"It's certainly something that should be raised for the next government, especially because of the huge capital cost."

Spring breakup is a major player in erosion. As ice gets pushed into the side of the river bank, it drags soil with it and gouges out a gap in the bank, which soon sees the now-unstable top fall down and the cycle start again. One suggested solution provided in the report would be to drive pilings into the ground in vulnerable areas, fencing them with sheet metal and back-filling the gap between them and the riverbank with rocks.

However, the mayor doesn't think that would be a very viable or cost-effective plan.

"It's a very high-cost solution," said Whelly after Monday's special council meeting, which saw the village authorize Yellowknife to vote on its behalf in the upcoming NWT Association of Communities meetings.

"Looking at that study, I believe that it might be more in our interest to look at how money can be found to move some of our infrastructure back from the river than it would be to try to set up a fight against Mother Nature, which there are no guarantees either that these type of reinforcings along the riverbanks would actually work."

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