Lutselk'e 'outraged' Frontier Lodge stuck in N.W.T. government's 'bureaucratic trap'

Chief Darryl Marlowe says the territorial government’s slow progress on permitting remote lodges could be ruinous for the newly acquired Frontier Lodge, a central part of the First Nation’s plan for Thaidene Nëné.

Chief Darryl Marlowe says N.W.T. broke its promise to grant exemptions

The Frontier Fishing Lodge in Łutsël K'é. (Submitted by Frontier Fishing Lodge)

Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation is "outraged" that more than a year after purchasing the Frontier Fishing Lodge, they are stuck in a "bureaucratic trap" over permits, says Chief Darryl Marlowe. 

The First Nation is concerned that unless licensing issues are resolved "there won't be a business left to license," Marlowe said in a Monday news release. 

"The crushing impacts of GNWT bureaucracy and the collapse of the tourism industry as a result of the COVID[-19] pandemic meant that 2020 was a complete write-off for the lodge," wrote Marlowe.

The lodge was a significant investment by the First Nation in support of its vision for the Thaidene Nëné Protected Area— to create local jobs and build a sustainable local economy for Lutselk'e.

Chief Darryl Marlowe said unless licensing issues are resolved 'there won't be a business left to license.' (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

In the fall, the premier said exemptions were coming for operators while the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs created new guidelines. 

But the Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation (LKDFN) says the territorial government backtracked on that commitment.

"We were promised a solution by the premier, but it's now clear that the officials are unable to deliver on that promise in time for us to operate in 2021," wrote Marlowe. "Unless that changes, the consequences for our business and our community will be significant."

LKDFN's tourism development manager Ray Griffith said the lodge is losing out on potential staycation bookings, and that another meeting is not scheduled with the territorial government until April. 

N.W.T. government says regulations forthcoming

On Feb. 10, Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna wrote to NWT Tourism chairperson Harold Grinde that the fire marshal would be able to implement the new approach to licensing over the next month. 

"With the lodge owner's participation, the approach should allow for further regulatory applications, including any licensing requirements, prior to the upcoming tourist season and limit operational impacts to the lodge owner," she wrote.

A policy change also required the lodge to get a licence through the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to obtain a liquor license.

The First Nation's position is that the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) should not be licensing remote lodges, wrote Marlowe in a Feb. 5 letter to Premier Caroline Cochrane. 

He argued it should only need a tourism operator license through Industry, Tourism and Investment. 

"I'm incredibly frustrated that more than a year has passed since Łutsël K'é First Nation  purchased Frontier Lodge, and we still do not have any clarity on how to secure the necessary licenses and permits we need to operate," he said.

MACA says public safety highest priority  

The department has met with the Łutsël K'é Dene Band and representatives from Frontier Lodge on "numerous occasions," said Jay Boast, a spokesperson from MACA, in an emailed statement to CBC.

"Some of the challenges that have been identified by Frontier Lodge are the result of number of regulatory requirements for facilities which serve multiple clients and provide food and liquor on their premises," Boast wrote.  

"The safety of the public is the GNWT's highest priority. Locations where alcohol is served require special consideration under the Fire Prevention Act. Exempting fire safety requirements does not serve the best interest of the public."

The statement goes on to say that "MACA has tried to find the most efficient path forward" and that "with the owner's participation, the fire marshal is ready to inspect the site so we can understand what if any additional requirements will be needed to address public safety and finalize regulatory applications in preparation for the upcoming tourism season."