RMWB defends progress on Conklin subdivision as local leaders blame red tape

The RMWB says there were delays in getting inspectors to Conklin for a recent inspection, but says the subdivision is a challenging project.

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The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) says it took longer than usual to send inspectors to Conklin for a review of a planned subdivision in the hamlet. However, the RMWB says the housing project is still within a normal timeline compared to similar projects.

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The Thursday evening statement from the RMWB comes a day after the leaders of the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC) blamed RMWB red tape for holding up a housing project in the municipal hamlet. Despite millions of dollars from industry and government for housing, CRDAC leaders says no homes have been built since the first announcement was made in early 2020.

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“The approval process and timeline of this subdivision development would be considered in line with other developments of this scale and complexity,” said a Thursday statement from the RMWB. “The overall process includes other levels of government and agencies, such as Alberta Transportation, Alberta Environment, Alberta Land Titles.”

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Conklin’s leadership hopes to build a new 15-lot subdivision. Rent will be based on income. At least 40 new homes are needed to solve the crisis. Cenovus Energy announced in Jan. 2020 a five-year, $50-million housing program for six Indigenous communities in northeastern Alberta, including Conklin. In October 2022, the province and federal government announced $4.4 million to support new housing in Conklin.

The lots CRDAC bought from the RMWB in 2020 are empty. Scott Duguid, CEO of the CRDAC, said in a Tuesday interview that the community is ready to assemble prefabricated homes and mobile homes from Ptarmigan Court. He added working with the RMWB on housing has been “painfully, painfully, painfully slow.”

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A report released Wednesday by consulting firm Willow Springs Solutions estimates between 75 per cent and 85 per cent of Conklin’s 178 people live in housing that is considered unsafe or insecure.

“Because there’s no housing stock or supply, you’re seeing homes falling into further disrepair. The social conditions that go with poverty and a lack of stable housing is increasing,” said Duguid. “Drug and alcohol use is up, property crime is significantly up, violent crime is definitely increasing.”

A home in Conklin in October 2023. Image by Willow Springs Solutions

Subdivision project a challenge: RMWB

The RMWB initially responded to the report with a brief statement saying they are aware of the CRDAC’s frustration and are treating housing in the hamlet as a priority. On Thursday, the RMWB said an inspector reached Conklin on Wednesday. Inspectors found problems the developer needs to fix, including grading of the site. These issues must be fixed before the RMWB can issue develop permits.

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The lots transferred to Conklin in Sept. 2020 needed an amendment of the hamlet’s Area Structure Plan. Council unanimously approved this request in June 2022. The lands were also vacant and undeveloped. The RMWB had to build utilities, roads, and water and sewage services. Grading and storm-water management also needed to be done.

Developing raw, untouched land meant going through eight development steps for subdivisions; six are complete.

“The RMWB remains committed to working with CRDAC throughout this process, so that they are prepared to submit their development permit application,” said the RMWB’s Thursday statement. “RMWB Planning and development has now assigned a single point of contact to expedite the development approval process.”

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Duguid said on Wednesday the RMWB has been helpful in other areas, despite his frustrations with timelines. The RMWB has transferred five mobile homes to the CRDAC that came from Ptarmigan Court after homeowners in flood-prone areas accepted municipal buyouts.

He also had no issues with how Cenovus is running their housing program, which includes construction training at Portage College for people from the six involved communities. Duguid praised the Alberta government for helping fund water, sewage and electrical services.

Other agencies pitched solutions with a mixed reception. Wood Buffalo Housing offered to transfer their four homes in Conklin to the CRDAC. Duguid said they are old, moldy and expensive to renovate. The CRDAC was also rejected from a housing accelerator program run by the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

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