Shots Fired: Paintball Saga Goes Bad

Earlier this week, EDGE cursed an entire sport by suggesting City officials and Yellowknife’s paintballers were “working on permitting” for paintball games at the Sandpits.

Fast forward three days and that apparent partnership has exploded in a cloud of neon yellow.

As things stand, there will now be no more paintball at the sandpits and possibly at all.

We previously described paintball as a boom-and-bust sport in Yellowknife, but, even by its own standards, one whole day of operation before shutdown would be a record.

So what happened?

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In short: the City doesn’t own the land at the Sandpits. It leases that land from the territorial government, and the territorial government has the final say on what happens there.

When it comes to paintball, the territory has now said: “No.”

“We got the firm answer that paintball won’t be considered at all. As a tenant, we can’t sublease a portion for that use,” said Wenyan Yu, the City’s acting director of planning and development.

“This location, it seems, is definitely a no from the GNWT’s perspective. The City doesn’t have the authority to do anything further.”

We asked the territorial government’s department of Lands to elaborate on why paintball can’t happen at the Sandpits.

“The permitted use under [the City’s lease] is for quarrying,” wrote spokesperson Leslie Campbell. “Quarry agreements do not allow for a sublease.

“The City could consider relinquishing a portion of the quarry area to try to accommodate the user group. This would allow the user group to apply through the City for a commercial lease for the area.”

‘Very one-sided’

This means last Sunday’s grand revival of paintball at the sandpits should never have gone ahead under the rules governing that land.

But wait. So the Sandpits can be used for quarrying, and quarrying alone, under this land agreement?

How, then, can the City officially designate the same area an off-leash dog park as it does on its website?

Off-leash dog parks are very much a recreational use and, according to the Department of Lands, the City’s agreement does not permit that.

Kyle Pond, organizer of Yellowknife’s new paintballing venture, is infuriated by the apparent inconsistency.

“If it’s a quarry, and it’s classified as an industrial site, they [the City] are allowing it to be a recreational site for off-roaders and dog walkers. It seems very one-sided,” he told us.

The territory has yet to explain this apparent conflict from its point of view, instead referring us back to the City. The City took an uncertain stab at it as follows.

“For dogs? We didn’t discuss that,” said Yu. “It’s a kind of historical established use.

“Some people occasionally have their dogs there. You have dog walks there, they clean up. It’s kind of grandfathered as a use. They [the GNWT] didn’t see a potential harm. But there’s no written agreement.”

This is not to suggest dogs and their owners should be kicked off the sandpits, but you can see why Pond might be exasperated particularly as he claims using that area was the City’s suggestion in the first place.

“It was a site that they recommended to us: it was their idea to provide us with the Sandpits and they made me pay all the fees attached to the paperwork,” he said. The City has since been in touch about a refund.

It may be that the City’s department of Community Services, which initially fielded Pond’s application to hold paintball games at the sandpits, wasn’t fully aware of the land use agreement in place — only for its department of Planning and Development (where Yu works) to later realize the ramifications.

Car parts, rags and poo

Yu, by the way, has a further complaint. She alleges the paintballers left spent ammunition all over the area.

“They left some balls there. The City and the GNWT together conducted a site inspection. We took some pictures and he didn’t clean up,” she said, referring to Pond.

“Paintballs left on the site are a hazard to animals.”

Pond disputes both the toxicity of the paintballs and the cleanliness of the site.

“We even went back last night and we dragged a net through the sand. There’s nothing out there,” said Pond on Wednesday.

He himself was not present for that clean-up, having earlier travelled to Edmonton, but he added: “We pulled out car parts, oily rags, dog poo, horse poo, paintballs. We even disposed of the stuff that wasn’t ours, on our bill.”

As of Thursday evening, Pond had no update on progress. He may be regretting the decision to seek prior permission rather than forgiveness later.

Assuming the Sandpits are now a write-off, the City’s soccer fields could be an option. They were part of the discussion when Pond first met Community Services earlier in the year.

Yu told us the search for an alternative site would be “between the paintballers and Community Services”.

Pond doesn’t think his paintball plans are entirely dead but, equally, he’s not optimistic about his relationship with the City.

“They’ve said things to me in the past through a voice conversation or a face-to-face meeting, then in writing turned around and said they never said it,” he concluded.

“I’m trying to keep everything written down.”

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