Weekly update: Doubts for future federal road support; Conklin opens for business

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • Fort McMurray Oil Barons: Upcoming home games at Centerfire Place: Whitecourt Wolverines on Feb. 23 and 24. Bonnyville Pontiacs on Feb. 27. All games start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and schedule.
  • CMHA Charity Jam and Silent Auction: One of the biggest gatherings of local musicians under the same roof Fort McMurray has ever seen. Feb. 16 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets.
  • The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy: Feb. 16-17, 22-24 at Keyano Theatre. Tickets and schedule.
  • Scotch Tasting: Hosted by McMurray Malt Maniacs at Bear & Buffalo on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. Tickets and information.
  • Punk Rock Music Bingo: Feb. 21 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Canadian Brewhouse. Tickets.
  • Black History Month Banquet and Awards Night: The Rehoboth Alliance celebrates the 10th anniversary of an annual evening celebrating Black history, culture and life. Keynote speaker is Marvin Washington, dean and vice-provost of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Alberta. Feb. 23 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Shell Place. Tickets.
  • Diner en Rouge: Under the Aurora: A red dress-themed fundraiser for the United Way promising an evening of sophistication, style and regional culinary fare. The venue, kept under wraps until the last moment. Feb. 24 from 6 p.m. to Midnight. Tickets.
  • Harry Potter Movie Trivia: Feb. 26 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at The Smokin’ Butcher. Tickets.
  • WinterPLAY: Fort McMurray’s annual winter festival returns with classics like Shootout on the Snye hockey tournament, wagon rides, dog sledding and fireworks. This year introduces sled demonstrations, human curling, foam ball sling shot, fat bike races and snow skate demonstrations. All events are free and from Feb. 23 to March 3 at Snye Point Park. Information on events, volunteers, vendors and registration.
  • FMCSD trustee byelection: The Fort McMurray Catholic School division will hold a byelection for a spot on the board of trustees on April 8. Candidates have until March 11 to register. Information on voting and becoming a candidate.
  • Randy’s Cheeseburger Picnic: Randy Bo-bandy himself from Trailer Park Boys is live at The Den on March 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. Obviously, 18+. Tickets.
  • Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards: The annual awards honour the achievements of leaders, philanthropists, volunteers and organizations in the community. Nominations are open until March 15 at 11:59 p.m. FuseSocial has information about the awards and categories.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts all-ages weekly events.
  • MacDonald Island Park updates its website with upcoming events and programs.
  • Wood Buffalo Volunteers has volunteer opportunities for different causes and non-profits across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.
  • Obituaries: Obituaries, memorial notices and sympathy announcements.

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highway 63
An aerial view of Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray Alta. on Thursday May 4, 2017. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Bowman, Goodridge slam Guilbeault’s comments about supporting large road projects

Mayor Sandy Bowman says recent comments from Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault leave him with doubts about federal support for current and future transportation projects.

The Montreal Gazette reports Guilbeault told a fundraising luncheon in Montreal “our government has made the decision to stop investing at the federal level in new road infrastructure.” On Wednesday, Guilbeault told reporters he was not specific with his comments and was talking about certain large projects.

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Bowman is confident the Alberta government will continue supporting the Highway 686 expansion,  which links Fort McMurray to the Peace River region. The RMWB and ACFN also supports a permanent road to Fort Chipewyan.

“Unfortunately, comments like this… don’t instill much confidence that the federal government is interested in playing much of a role in supporting current or future projects,” said Bowman in a Wednesday email. “From my perspective and given these comments, there is certainly a lot more that Ottawa can be doing to support the region’s infrastructure.”

Laila Goodridge, Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, called Guilbeault’s comments “an insane policy” and mentioned Guilbeault’s past as an environmental activist.

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“This is so out of touch with rural Canada and Canadians in general,” she said in an interview. “I look at some of the roads that are being proposed in our region and this policy effectively says they will not support them. This is out of touch and out of line.”

A sign welcoming people to Conklin, Alta. on Sunday, September 22, 2019. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

CRDAC hopes industry partnerships shows ‘Conklin is open for business’

Conklin’s community leaders hope partnerships with seven companies operating in the oilsands will create job opportunities in the community, support social services and improve housing.

The agreements are joint ventures and memorandums of understanding that Scott Duguid, CEO of the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC), said will financially benefit the region and help Conklin become self-sufficient.

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The partnerships are modeled after similar agreements other northern and Indigenous communities have signed with businesses. Those deals have successfully brought revenue and employment into local communities.

“We’re really trying to build a bit of a business enterprise. The message we’re sending is Conklin is open for business,” said Duguid.

The municipality’s 2021 census puts Conklin’s population at 178 people. Despite the small population, Duguid is the first to admit that Conklin urgently needs economic and social development.

Conklin has battled a housing crisis for years and an estimated 40 new homes are needed to resolve the crisis. A housing program sponsored by Cenovus has yet to build any new homes. The CRDAC blames municipal red tape, while the municipality says the project is complex but within normal timelines.

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The community also urgently needs support for health and elders’ care, addictions support, social programming, policing and recreation.

“There’s so many programs that we need to start to build up and to build a healthier community that’s healthier across the board,” said Duguid. “It’s a bit of a free-for-all from a crime perspective right now.”

Workers from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray-based social profits clear a homeless encampment on Manning Avenue on August 9, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

RMWB council approves funding for homelessness initiatives

Council has unanimously approved $132,068 in funding for fighting homelessness in the region.

The province and federal government have committed more than $5 million towards fighting homelessness in the region. The funding covers a municipal request for increased funding that both levels of government denied.

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Deanne Bergey, the municipality’s community and protective services director, said the full funding will support rental and wraparound services, including addictions programs, and reducing encampments. The municipal plan takes a Housing First approach, which uses caseworkers to support people who have just moved into a housing program.

Bergey warned council at their Tuesday meeting that federal funding will likely be reduced for the budget years between 2026 and 2028. A report to council estimates the shortfall for the 2025-26 grant year is more than $700,000.

Non-profits in the region have argued the number of chronically homeless people in the region is likely higher than what’s found in municipal counts. Bergey said the municipality knows of 36 people living on the streets and 93 people on the By Name List waiting for housing. This is a 98 per cent increase from last year.

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“That’s not bad news, that just means we’ve been able to tap into those individuals who are living work and they’ve seen the program work and they also want to be housed,” said Bergey.

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The sun rises over frozen Lake Athabasca near Fort Chipewyan, Alta. on Friday December 12, 2014. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

One person killed in helicopter crash near Fort Chipewyan

A pilot of a helicopter has died after it crashed near Fort Chipewyan on Monday afternoon.

Alberta RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) confirmed the crash happened around 3 p.m. over the frozen Lake Athabasca. Police and a search and rescue team from CFB Trenton began a search for the crash site and the pilot. The search and rescue team located the crash and the pilot was found deceased at the scene.

Alberta RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mathew Howell says the helicopter was being used for industrial purposes when it crashed. He could not offer details about the pilot, the company, its destination or the work it was doing at the time.

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TSB is investigating the cause of the crash. A team of TSB investigators have arrived in the community.

Wood Buffalo Housing’s Breakwater B building on Monday, February 12, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Carbon monoxide leak evacuates Timberlea apartment, hospitalizes 10 people

A carbon monoxide (CO) leak hospitalized 10 people and prompted the evacuation of one of Wood Buffalo Housing’s Timberlea apartments during the weekend. Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz says the incident is an example of why CO detectors are important to have in homes.

Members of the Fort McMurray Fire Department were responding to a medical call at the complex when, at 12:16 p.m. on Feb. 10, their portable detectors alerted them to high CO levels. Residents were assessed on the scene and 10 people were brought to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre for treatment and further evaluations.

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Each floor was vented until CO levels dropped to normal levels. People were allowed to return home on Sunday. Regional Emergency Services (RES) says the leak was caused by a malfunctioning air exchanger in a boiler area used to heat the building.

“I can’t stress how important carbon monoxide detectors are – they save lives. Have one on every level of your home and test them every month,” said Butz in a statement.

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Marlena Bennett and Andrew Wall of Fort McMurray, Alta. appear in an image uploaded to Bennett’s Facebook account on June 11, 2019. jpeg, FM

Former Fort McMurray couple guilty of charges involving children: 

During a two-week trial last month, Andrew Wall had no shame or embarrassment in his voice as he admitted texts between himself and his girlfriend had graphic descriptions of harming children. However, he insisted they were fantasies and not real events.

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On Tuesday, a teary Wall shook his head, closed his eyes and fidgeted nervously while Court of King’s Bench Justice Shaina Leonard said she did not believe him.

Wall and his girlfriend, Marlena Bennett, have been found guilty of multiple charges that involve children being harmed. Some email services might mark this newsletter as junk mail if the exact charges are written, but full details are in the story.  Some readers may find this story disturbing.

Police investigating reports of drink spiking: 

Police in Fort McMurray are investigating reports of drink spiking and are warning people to keep an eye on their drinks when in public.

Wood Buffalo RCMP said in a Tuesday news release they have been receiving reports of spiked drinks throughout the community. Police did not release the names of the businesses where these incidents were reported.

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People are asked to report any suspected drink spiking to police, and warned to never leave their drink unattended in public.

Wood Buffalo RCMP issued a similar warning in July after receiving reports of drink spiking. Officers said at the time that most drink spiking offences go unreported.

Visitors take in a sneak peak viewing of the Immersive Disney Animation exhibit at the Edmonton EXPO Centre on Feb. 14. Photo by David Bloom/Postmedia Network

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  • Chestermere chaos: The City of Chestermere is ending an expensive legal saga spearheaded by its ousted mayor in his bid to return to office. The legal fight left the city with a bill just shy of $300,000. The lawyer for the fired mayor and three councillors says the legal battle to reinstate his clients will continue.
  • Coutts protest: A Fort MacLeod councillor has resigned so he can focus on an upcoming trial related to the 2022 Coutts border protest. Marco Van Huigenbos is charged with mischief over $5,000. Two other men also face the same charge in relation to the protest. Their trial is scheduled for April 2 in Lethbridge Court of King’s Bench.
  • Read up on the politics and culture of Alberta  with Postmedia’s subscriber-exclusive newsletter, What’s up with Alberta? Curated by the National Post’s Tyler Dawson every Tuesday and Thursday.

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