Grass isn't greener as RMWB helps new lawn care contractor catch up

Uncut greenspaces has caused grassroots grumbling from residents, a councillor and the local contractor that held the job for eight years.

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It was rare that Chris Yarkie of C&B Contracting heard complaints about uncut grass in Fort McMurray. Municipal lawn care was rarely a major talking point among residents and for eight years, the Fort McMurray-based contractor held the contract to keep public lawns tidy.

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That changed this past spring when the contract went to a competitor based in Edmonton. In recent weeks, Yarkie has watched large sections of Fort McMurray’s public greenspaces neglected. He’s not alone in his frustration.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) put out a Monday post on their Facebook and X accounts asking people to be patient as crews rush to mow the lawns. A municipal spokesperson said in a Monday email that recent heavy rainfalls has delayed mowing. Standing water and muddy, wet ground has slowed or stopped mowers and made it unsafe to cut sloped areas, such as greenspaces around ponds.

Meanwhile, Councillor Keith McGrath has publicly criticized the contractor’s performance as well as administration for not sticking with a local company. So have residents, who have packed the Pulse Line with complaints. The new contractor, Cortex Management, did not return requests for comment.

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“I think they just went with the lowest bidder, simple as that. They were looking for cost-savings,” Yarkie said in an interview. “We had a great track record with the RMWB, I’m pretty sure they were satisfied with our services… we thought for sure we’d be one of the best candidates for it.”

“Additionally, contractor familiarization with our processes, neighborhoods, priority areas, and the environment has been a factor,” reads the statement. “To ensure we meet our mowing priorities, staff are being temporarily reassigned to support mowing and grass cutting operations.”

The municipality said that as of Monday, 300 hectares of greenspace, municipal parks, critical infrastructure and cemeteries have been mowed by municipal workers and contractors. The contractor is responsible for 475 hectares. It is hoped this first phase will be finished by June 23. Once finished, weekly and biweekly mowing will continue throughout the region until the season ends.

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Yarkie said the municipality never offered his workers help when they faced challenges. He also said the weather would not have slowed his company as badly as the new contractor. But Yarkie said the biggest problem is the contract should have been awarded earlier this year.

The contract opened in March, ended April 22 and was awarded on May 1. This gave the successful bidder eight days to assess logistics such as equipment, staff, personal protective equipment, location and repairs.

Yarkie thought his track record, local location and equipment availability gave him an advantage in the bidding process. When he did not get the contract, 22 workers he would have hired had to find jobs elsewhere.

“As a contractor that lives here, it’s frustrating to see out-of-town companies come in and get these bigger contracts, take the money and go back and support their towns and their youth sports and their arts programs and their non-profits,” he said. “That’s the frustrating part for us locally and I think I speak for every local contractor.”

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