GNWT officials are taking steps to give the Hay River Territorial Beach a safety makeover, including new signage and emergency equipment, by this year’s park season.
The announcement comes after an audit by the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and the Northwest Territories highlighting multiple safety concerns with the Hay River beach was given to the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) two weeks ago.
The Lifesaving Society was in Hay River on July 26 last year to perform the audit, which included a walk-over of the parking lot, beach front and campground, as well as water sampling.
In total, the audit makes 28 recommendations, including taking regular bacteriological samples of the water, having proper safety equipment such as buoyant throwing aides and reaching poles available, and posting signs that identify potential hazards.
The cost to implement all recommendations ranges between $50,000 and $75,000, according to GNWT estimates.
Kelly Kaylo, assistant deputy minister with ITI, said the government plans to have all safety recommendations in place by May when the territorial park opens to the public.
The audit on the Hay River beach follows a similar audit done by the Lifesaving Society on the Fred Henne Territorial Park beach made public late last year after a boy drowned in Yellowknife.
The two beaches were chosen because they are part of territorial parks located wholly within a municipality, Kaylo told The Journal. No other beaches are scheduled for an audit.
While there were many overlapping safety issues found at the two beaches, Kelly Carter with the Lifesaving Society noted that Hay River was unique because of an unsafe log buildup from fallen trees in the area.
“We’ve recommended that the government looks at reviewing its methods of storing and cleaning the beach and tries to minimize those hazards present,” Carter said.
The GNWT clears the logs yearly, however the audit was done a few days before the logs were scheduled for removal, Kaylo explained.
Lifeguards not a guarantee
Both the Hay River and Fred Henne audits make no recommendations for lifeguards, Carter said, though ITI has requested the Lifesaving Society perform a lifeguard feasibility study.
“The biggest thing with lifeguards is often it gives the public this sense of protection that might not be there,” Carter said, adding that there are multiple other safety measures that need to be taken before lifeguards should be considered.
Last year, a group calling themselves Lifeguards for Lodune in memory of 7 year-old Lodune Shelley, who drowned at the Fred Henne beach in June, started a public awareness campaign calling on the territorial government to reinstate lifeguards at the beach.
The group of volunteers patrolled the beach last summer as first responders, pledging to continue the supervision until the GNWT takes action.
Public input sought on safety
The government is asking the public to share their thoughts on safety concerns at the Fred Henne and Hay River beaches.
ITI recently launched an online survey for residents to give input on the Fred Henne Territorial Park beach, and a similar survey is in the works for Hay River.
Once the results of the lifeguard feasibility study are released, a public meeting will be held in Yellowknife by ITI officials. Those results are expected in the next few months.
The survey on the Fred Henne Beach can be found on the ITI website at www.iti.gov.nt.ca