Nearly three years after the Chuckegg Creek wildfire forced thousands of people in northern Alberta to flee their homes and also destroyed several residences, the Town of High Level says it is still waiting for the provincial government to cover the costs of the emergency response.
Mayor Crystal McAteer said the province had asked the town to cover the costs because the provincial budget had not been passed yet. The town spent what it needed to protect itself and other surrounding communities.
It cost the town about $10 million. The Disaster Recovery Program has repaid most of the money but the town said it is still owed $2.6 million. There is also now $600,000 in interest payments and other fees.
“I don’t think it’s a case of them not going to pay us, but this has lingered on for the better part of two years now, so it would be nice to get paid,” McAteer said.
She added this will not put the town in financial ruin, but the money could be put toward an evacuation centre that the town and Dene Tha’ First Nation are building in case of future natural disasters.
McAteer said in the event of another natural disaster, the town could likely take on those costs but would not be able to wait as long to get repaid.
She said the town has waited long enough. There have been talks with the province to have the money repaid but they have not gone far.
“They keep asking for paperwork, but we have sent them all the paperwork,” McAteer said. “We have no more paperwork. It just seems to be a lot of back and forth between our departments.”
The provincial government responded to Global News’ request for comment in an email. It acknowledged that it has paid the Town of High Level a total of $7.2 million in four advances.
The remaining amount of $2.6 million is currently being reviewed.
“Department staff are currently reviewing the final installment to ensure all expenses and proper documentation are accurate and in place,” the email reads. “Disaster Recovery Programs are typically open for five years to allow for multi-year construction projects to be completed.
“Before the government of Alberta can receive full DFAA reimbursement from the federal government, each program is independently audited and subject to an audit by Public Safety Canada.”
The province said following a successful review, it anticipates the balance of the Disaster Recovery Program eligible costs of up to a maximum of $2.6 million to be paid in full by June 30.