Air assistance

Fort Simpson woman still struggling with disaster relief program

Laverna Martel-Harvey has been working in a cramped home since the devastating flood that swept through the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories last year.

South Nahanni Airways’ new office is under construction in Calgary and is still months away from arriving in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories

Martel-Harvey owns the company with her husband Jacques Harvey, as well as Wolverine Air and Airports North Ltd., which operates the island’s airport. She expected to pay for the new office with funds from the territory’s Disaster Assistance Policy (DAP), but it might not qualify for funding.

“[Government officials] didn’t give me a proper answer as to why,” she said.

This is the latest in a series of frustrations she has had with the DAP.

More pressing is the possibility of having to repay the $300,000 she received after missing the government deadline to submit paperwork for her claims.

A large warehouse shared between South Nahanni Airways and Black Feather, an Ontario-based outfitter that runs tours in the Northwest Territories. (Submitted by Jacques Harvey)

Overall, 129 residences, 41 small businesses or non-governmental organizations and four community governments filed claims. The Government of the Northwest Territories estimates that the response to and recovery from last year’s flooding will cost approximately $40 million.

Hailing from Hay River, Martel-Harvey has been in contact with people in the community who are going through their own recovery.

“Don’t sit there thinking it’s all going to be gravy because you’re going to have [money]” she said. “It’s not like that at all.”

Worse and worse

Martel-Harvey said his businesses were already struggling due to the pandemic when the biggest flood in 60 years hit.

They’ve lost several fuel tanks and vehicles, their office has been damaged, their airport is still not fully restored, and “the list goes on and on,” Martel-Harvey said.

Appraisers determined that the couple suffered approximately $2 million in damages across their three businesses.

In the spring, their staff typically doubles to around eight people; last year after the flood, there were no additional hires.

A square building is almost submerged by flood waters.
At its peak, the flood water almost reached the blue edge of the warehouse roof. (Submitted by Jacques Harvey)

Instead, she and Jacques spent most of their time cleaning.

“We had to go out and buy a dump trailer,” Martel-Harvey said. “Ninety trips to the dump.”

The pair recouped some of the costs through DAP, but Martel-Harvey said the process entailed additional headaches that weren’t worth the effort for the amount of money they received.

“If I had to do it over again, I would have said, ‘No, leave me alone. I don’t need it.'”

A tight deadline

Last year’s version of the DAP allowed a maximum claim of $100,000 for residents and small businesses — an amount Martel-Harvey said he easily maxed out for all three businesses.

Typically, DAP claimants spend their own money on repairs and replacement of lost items and then request reimbursement. Martel-Harvey said she received the $100,000 for each business up front, with two-thirds of the money coming last November.

At that time, she had just over a month to file all the documents before the Ministry of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) deadline of December 31, which meant that all work would have to be completed or in progress. course by then.

A plywood building in an advanced state of destruction.
A building for local tourist outfitters on the grounds of South Nahanni Airways. The building housed a kitchen and petty officers, all of which were destroyed. (Submitted by Jacques Harvey)

“We can’t refurbish, replace, rebuild, buy everything in a short time,” Martel-Harvey said. “It’s not the season to build.”

She adds that the ministry told her that she should have purchased the necessary equipment anyway. “Why?” she asks. “Sit here and rot?

And that’s if the materials were even available. Last summer, the pandemic shut down global supply chains for everything from wood to baby formula. Martel-Harvey said he contacted various vendors only to be told the items weren’t in stock.

Labor is also hard to come by in the North, a situation further aggravated by the COVID-19 outbreaks. Martel-Harvey said they tried to get quotes from local contractors, but were already behind schedule.

Lorie Fyfe, assistant deputy minister for disaster relief, said MACA heard from residents that the December deadline wasn’t good enough, so they pushed it back to February 18.

But Jennifer Young, MACA’s general affairs director, said supply chain issues and lack of manpower were not taken into account in determining the new deadline. On the contrary, the initial funding approved for flood recovery was running out by the end of the fiscal year in March.

Although they have informed residents that they risk being charged for their full DAP amounts if they do not submit documents, MACA said it is still willing to work with them.

A truck almost submerged by flood waters.
One of the company’s trucks under flood waters. It was one of six vehicles claimed by the flood. (Submitted by Jacques Harvey)

Young said the department still doesn’t know how many residents might be billed for money that ultimately went unspent.

The territory has no core funding to cover disaster costs. Instead, it is funded through disaster financial assistance agreements with the federal government. Under the agreement, the territorial government has five years to submit its claim for reimbursement once an executive order is approved, which has not yet happened for last year’s flood.

Thus, residents had less than a year to complete their applications while the government still has five years to recover its money.

‘Unbelievable’

In May, Martel-Harvey filed documents for claims by South Nahanni Airways and Wolverine Air.

The couple managed to buy a few replacement fuel tanks and pumps, as well as covered trailers to bring some of their gear with them should another flood occur. But none of these elements are included in the claims.

Instead, Martel-Harvey said she submitted a single project for each: a pontoon bridge and the new office, each costing more than $100,000.

Earlier this year, Reported cabin radio Wolverine Air was sued for failing to pay for the new pontoon bridge. Martel-Harvey disputes the cost but was ultimately ordered to pay.

According to Cabin Radio, the repair company said Wolverine’s insurance company approved the repair. Martel-Harvey said she never received insurance money to pay for the bridge, so she filed it as a DAP claim.

So far, she has not heard if her papers have been accepted. He was recently told that MACA staff hadn’t had time to look at it as they were dealing with the ongoing recovery at Hay River.

“I rush and work hard to get it [them]”, she said, “and now [they] don’t even have time to look at it. Unbelievable.”

For now, Martel-Harvey is waiting for her new office, whether she can afford it, and whether she will somehow owe the government money despite her businesses still not having returned to office. state before the floods.