North

'They're trying to rush us': Tuktoyaktuk relocating homes too soon, says resident

Noella Cockney’s house is slowly slipping into the Arctic Ocean, and the Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., resident says the Arctic hamlet is in a rush to relocate her. Her home is one of several threatened by rapid coastal erosion.

Hamlet says they won’t protect shoreline near houses they want to relocate this fall

Noella Cockney of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T, uses lumber and plastic fencing to build makeshift coastal barriers. She says the hamlet told her they'll no longer protect the plot. (Weronika Murray/Submitted by Noella Cockney)

Noella Cockney can watch the waves splash against the door of her home when the storms pick up in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

Her house is one of several in the Arctic hamlet threatened by rapid coastal erosion — houses the local government intends to relocate to new gravel foundations on Reindeer Point Road, inland.

But with the fall storm season on the way, Cockney says it's too soon to move.

"They're trying to rush us, and that's just going to end up destroying our houses."

Disappearing coastal land has been a fact of life for decades in Tuktoyaktuk, but residents say in the past year alone, storms have grown more fierce and destructive — and the rate of erosion is accelerating.

New foundations were laid by the hamlet a few weeks ago, intended for the most vulnerable homes on Tuktoyaktuk's long, thin point. Cockney says they are hoping to move the houses — including Cockney's and her mother's next door — this fall.

But Cockney says, normally, new foundations are left to settle for as long as a year, before any structures are placed on top.

"There's a lot of loose mud and sand in there," she said.

"If the ground shifts … then our house is going to shift as well."

Tuktoyaktuk's senior administrative officer, Shawn Stuckey, says the hamlet would adjust relocated homes twice a year to ensure they are still level.

But ultimately, homeowners will still be on the hook for damages.

"They don't have to move if they don't want to," says Stuckey.

Tuktoyaktuk is located in the western Northwest Territories, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. (CBC)

No protection for relocating homes

For Cockney, the only thing worse than moving might be staying put.

She says she's been told by the hamlet "they're no longer going to be putting any shoreline protection at all" behind the houses awaiting relocation.

"I just found out from my insurance that I they're not going to cover me for 'earth movement' as well," she said. "So if my house goes over the edge, I'm homeless."

Cockney's home, shown a year ago, was built by her late father. She says neither the hamlet nor her insurance will cover damages to the house from relocation or erosion. (Weronika Murray/Submitted by Noella Cockney)

Cockney has sentimental reasons to protect her home, which was built by her late father. The past few weeks have left her "very frustrated, very angry, very sad.

"To see it ... go over the bank and into the ocean …  It would be very heartbreaking," she says.

"I'm going to be pleading with the local government, the territorial government, maybe even federal government to try and put the shoreline protection [in place] until the pads are stable enough for our houses."

Funding short, says Tuktoyaktuk mayor

Pleading alongside her will be Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Merven Gruben.

"Right now we have zero dollars," he says.

"It wouldn't be a problem if we had funding every year to look after the infrastructure we have on the beach," he told the host of Trail's End. "We haven't been able to bring any rock in."

Shipping rock from Inuvik to build up the shoreline costs thousands of dollars, Gruben says, and federal and territorial funding is only paying for the homes' relocation.

"We're doing the damn best we can. Believe me, we're not sitting back here and watching the waves just wash away."

With another fall storm season quickly approaching, Cockney has taken matters into her own hands, building makeshift barriers with lumber and orange plastic fencing.

It may be more than just her home at stake.

Cockney says if the land isn't protected, the whole community could be in jeopardy.

Beaufort Road, where Cockney's house is located, runs along one of the spine of Tuktoyaktuk's narrow point.

"If the land breaches, Tuk is going to be going through a lot of a lot of heartache."

Gruben is more optimistic.

"I'm confident it's going to be okay, but it's hard to please everybody."

Tuktoyaktuk point has lost metres of land in the last several years as coastal erosion accelerates. (Submitted by Saville Anderson)

Based on an interview by Lawrence Nayally, produced by Marc Winkler