Latham Island mini-parks stir debate on private use of public land

The City’s Municipal Services Committee will come head-to-head next week with a time-honoured practice that’s guided development in Yellowknife since its earliest days, when miners burned the camps of absent Dene and claimed ownership of the land.

Politely described as the appropriation of public land for private use, it’s more commonly known as squatting. Evidence of the practice is everywhere in Old Town, from Woodyard  shacks to un-authorized docks in McMeekan Channel and the Back Bay shore of Latham Island.

What brings the question under public scrutiny is a pair of pocket parks proposed for Latham Island in the City’s Harbour Plan, and the question of what to do about proposed docks for visiting aviators and $50,000 in floats for the project currently stored in the City’s yard in Kam Lake.

The dock floats were purchased when Bob Long was city administrator and parked his personal aircraft on a small city-owned waterfront lot on Wiley Road, next to the Great Slave Lake Yacht Club.

“Council has kicked the can on float plane docks so far down the road I don’t think it can ever come back,” said Hal Logsdon, President of the NWT Float Plane Association, which sponsors the semi-annual Float Plane Fly-In where finding parking for visiting planes has long been a problem.

The association first proposed the float plane docks 10 years ago, when there was also talk of a board walk on the lower Morrison Drive waterfront. Both ideas ran into immediate resistance from Latham Island property owners who have installed their own docks on Commissioner’s Land leased by the City.

The Latham Island Neighbourhood Association elected a new executive slate earlier this month, but its thinking on the proposed mini parks and the possible intrusion of public float plane docks is unchanged.

Mini parks at the foot of Lessard and Watt drives are okay (see photo and Google Map below), says LINA, but only if the City sticks with its plan to limit their use to canoeists and kayakers, and keeps the parks free of litter and late-night parties.

Float planes moored at unauhtorized docks at the proposed pocket park site.

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LINA is opposed to building docks for visiting aviators between Lessard and Watt drives where several aviators – including Logsdon – now moor planes at docks that Jeff Humble, the City’s director of planning and lands, describes as “unauthorized.”

The waterfront land should be leased to upland property owners – effectively legitimizing the docks, in LINA’s view, while visiting float planes could tie up at the City’s Wiley Road property – a site Humble said is too small for the purpose.

As for the unauthorized docks scattered throughout Old Town, Humble said “there needs to be direction from council on how to proceed.” How the issue is managed will set a precedent for how the City deals with other intrusions on public land.

“The longer you ignore it, the more difficult it is to deal with,” said Logsdon, “and now, it has gotten out of hand.”

Web - Long Plane

Former CAO Bob Long’s single-seat Piper aircraft moored at the City’s Wiley Road lot on Back Bay, September 2011.

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