No new land leases in Yellowknife area for next 2 years

The N.W.T. Lands Departments is reviewing its recreational land policies in an attempt to streamline rules relating to cabin leases, squatters and land use across the territory.

N.W.T. Dept. of Lands is now reviewing its recreational land use policies

The N.W.T. Lands Departments is trying to create a clear set of rules relating to cabin leases, squatters and land use across the territory. 

"Northerners have told us that they care about environmental sustainability and also want more opportunities to lease land near communities," Minister Robert C. McLeod said in a press release. He announced the plans to review Recreational Land Management in the legislature this afternoon. 

Starting Oct. 21, no one can apply for new leases around the Ingraham Trail or Highway 3, where there's the highest density of leases. This moratorium will remain until the review finishes; it's expected to take between 18 months and two years. 

The area includes Banting, Prelude and Reid Lakes. McLeod says they're still working on a density study to determine how much more development those lakes can support.

"You don't want lakes there that are overcrowded," he said.

"It takes away from the whole purpose of having a recreational piece of property where you can enjoy some of the quietness. I think the main issue is the lakes' ability to sustain a lot of campsites on it." 

Because of the high demand for leases outside of Yellowknife, the department says it's possible there will be a specific set of policies that apply in the area outside the city. 

With devolution, the territory took on responsibility for both Commissioner's Land, which is within community boundaries, and recreational land, rural areas across the territory that the federal government used to administer. The territory went from being responsible for 2,700 square kilometres to 1.15 million square kilometres.

There's currently two different sets of policies for those two areas. Officials say there are some discrepancies in how leases are handled in the different areas, from the size of land that is available to time frames. 

The department will still be processing renewals and managing vacant lots that have already been surveyed in the area outside Yellowknife. 

Residents may still apply for land leases in other parts of the territory. 

More inspectors hired to deal with squatters

Part of this review will be trying to find a consistent approach to deal with squatters, people who are not authorized to use the land. Lakes around Yellowknife are dotted with cabins whose owners don't have leases to set up permanent structures. 

The Department of Lands says it has already increased the number of inspectors who monitor this type of unauthorized use. There are 38 inspectors following up on complaints from the public, 10 more positions than the territory and Aboriginal Affairs previously had covering the same area. 

"With the land mass we've inherited there's a lot of work that's going to have to be done to identify squatters. Once we identify them we'll do everything to ensure they're removed," said McLeod. 

The department expects to hold public meetings in communities across the territory the coming months. Officials say they've sent letters to aboriginal governments inviting them to be part of the process and asking them for input.

Public meetings and consultations with aboriginal governments will happen concurrently this winter. Afterwards, the department will post its draft policies.

The Department of Lands has been considering allowing existing leaseholders at Cassidy Point to purchase their land. No final decisions have been made and officials say that will be part of this review. 

McLeod says land identified through land claim negotiations has been withdrawn and will not be available for leases.