Teslin flooding, berms and pumps as seen behind restaurant and gas station on June 18. (submitted)

Teslin flooding, berms and pumps as seen behind restaurant and gas station on June 18. (submitted)

Teslin Tlingit Council and Teslin Village collaborate on flood response

Teslin Tlingit Council and Village of Teslin wrap flooding operations and look to future for permanent dikes, berms and shore armouring

Working together is working well for the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Village of Teslin.

Both governments heeded last year’s hint at high water levels and started planning over the winter, managing a small bit of construction in the spring. Then high waters propelled them into all-out community flood protection in mid-June.

“It is no longer if the Village of Teslin and Teslin Tlingit Council will work together, but how. This long-standing relationship provided a solid foundation for our response to the flood threat,” said Teslin’s mayor, Gord Curran, in a joint news release on July 12.

The news release was on letterhead of both governments with the words “Community Partnership” at the bottom.

Their joint response to climate change and rising water is a result of many years and decades of working together and planning.

For instance, they have a Joint Community Development Plan and a Joint Emergency Measures Plan, both of which are unique in the Yukon.

It carried them through COVID-19 and through the flood event of 2022 as water levels threatened infrastructure, businesses, heritage structures and homes.

Their relationship is at the community level. It’s horizontal or sometimes referred to as lateral, but it is the kind of multi-level government collaboration recommended by experts for local disaster responses to execute immediate on-the-ground solutions.

READ MORE: Yukon’s complexity requires a new approach for climate change and disaster response: expert

The 2022 flood levels the community faced were 1.1 metres higher than 2021 and only 0.3 meters below the maximum lake elevation ever recorded.

The background summary with the release reported that the Teslin flood response involved over 23 local and Yukon businesses. At the height of the response, the daily crew size fluctuated between 55 to 108 workers and included significant use of heavy equipment.

The City of Whitehorse lent 2,000 superbags to the Village of Teslin (VOT) and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation sent crews, equipment, and food. The Yukon government’s Emergency Measures Organization provided support and coordination.

In addition, the Teslin Tlingit Council’s health department provided lunch, snacks, and water to workers — staff of the two governments and approximately 50 volunteers daily.

Over 13,000 superbags and over 80,000 small bags were filled and more than 50 water pumps were deployed around the community over three weeks.

“We pride ourselves on working as a community, but seeing how the community came together during this crucial time was truly impressive,” said Eric Morris, Naa Shaáde Háni (Chief) of the Teslin Tlingit Council.

Although the two governments in Teslin are accustomed to working together, most funding structures aren’t set up for such partnerships.

For example, the Yukon government funded the Village of Teslin for the initial engineering of their flood prevention plans, which allowed the Teslin Tlingit Council to access federal funding from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) to deal with mitigation on retained reserves.

The Teslin Tlingit Council got the funding and had the village project manage it. But leading up to the flood, the village did not get funding for non-First Nations land.

Once operations kicked in, then funding for the operations came from CIRNAC and the Yukon government through a federal disaster mitigation fund.

Now as water levels begin to drop, both the council and the village are before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) seeking views to construct a series of dikes, berms and rip rap to strengthen the shoreline and protect the entire lakefront community into the future. The project will require about $10 million.

It’s complicated, Curran explains.“Teslin has a small boundary with settlement land; retained reserves; fee simple land; and crown land.” It has different land owners with differing jurisdictions and access to different pots of money.

“We are working towards getting funding to cover all lands within the community,” Curran said.

Although the council and the village are comfortable in their community partnership, “It’s just getting other orders of government to understand the concept of working together … Luckily, locally, we have a good idea of what we want to do.”

Contact Lawrie Crawford at lawrie.crawford@yukon-news.com