Weekly update: RMWB passes sobering budget and hitting the slopes at Vista Ridge

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

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Good morning, Fort McMurray!

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  • Nominate Your Neighbour: Wood Buffalo Communities in Bloom wants you to nominate businesses or homes in your neighbourhood with festive light displays and decorations. Deadline for submissions is TODAY. More information is at the RMWB.
  • ᓵᑭᐦᐃᑐᐊᐧᐠ sâkihitowak ełghąnuwutą they love each other: An art exhibition featuring historical images and artworks highlighting the Indigenous experience through intergenerational love. Jubilee Centre’s lobby until the end of 2023, Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. More information at the RMWB.
  • Mean Girls: The Musical: Dec. 15-16 at Ecole McTavish High School. This totally fetch show is $15 for adults and $10 for students.
  • Onesie and Ugly Christmas Sweater Party: Brewskis Pub on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m.
  • Tipsy Trivia: General knowledge trivia at Brewskis Pub at 7 p.m. on Dec. 21
  • Blackhorse Christmas Dinner: Dec. 23 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Blackhorse Pub.
  • Jingle and Mingle Ugly Sweater Party: Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Blackhorse Pub.
  • Free Christmas meal: The Fort McMurray Knights of Columbus hosts a free Christmas meal open to everyone, regardless of income level or faith. Event is hosted at Our Lady of the Rivers Catholic School from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers can call Larry Andrews at 780-838-3434. Call Dan O’leary at 780-881-4634 about donations. Send general inquiries to Stanley Bartlett at 780-792-8364.
  • The Craze on New Year’s Eve!: MacDonald Island Park welcomes 2024 with a day of family fun. Fireworks will end a day of face painting, bouncy castles, wagon rides, skating (including a sensory-friendly skate), curling lessons and more. Events run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, fireworks are at 5:30 p.m. A schedule of events is online.
  • Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival: A selection of films from the festival in Banff plays at Keyano Theatre. Films take take viewers to the world’s remote corners, discuss environmental issues, and bring an up-close and adrenaline-packed action sports experience. Jan. 11 and 12 at Keyano Theatre. Tickets are online.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts plenty of events every week. These all-ages events can be found online.
  • MacDonald Island Park regularly updates its website with upcoming events and programs.

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budget meeting
L-R: Mayor Sandy Bowman and CAO Henry Hunter speak with Chris Davis of the RMWB Legal Services department on December 14, 2023. Image supplied by George Kyriacoullis of the RMWB

Council approves $611.4 million budget, tight revenues ahead

Council had a sobering four days debating the 2024 budget as councillors grappled with a tight cash flow that is expected to narrow in the near future.

The 2024 budget is $611.4 million. Operations makes up $474 million and $137.6 million will go to reserves for capital. The capital budget is $170.4 million with funding from grants, capital reserves and expected 2024 revenues.

Major projects like flood mitigation, running water and sewage services in rural hamlets, the Northside Twin Arenas and upgrades to roads have been approved.

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The RMWB has no debt, but the meeting was filled with warnings to be stingy with the public purse. CAO Henry Hunter said an upcoming asset management plan “is going to be a shock.” Gone are the days when council passed a $1-billion budget for 2013.

“This is the first budget cycle I’ve sat through in a decade where we’re actually talking about money we don’t have,” said Councillor Keith McGrath, who was elected in 2013.

People walk past a sticker raising awareness about opioids in Edmonton. PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM /Postmedia Network

Opioid deaths in Fort McMurray hit all-time high, drug poisonings heading for record high

Data from the Alberta government shows 2023 is the deadliest year locally for opioid deaths. The year is also on track to be the deadliest year for drug poisonings. Deaths across Alberta are also reaching all-time records.

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The data covers January to September. It shows drugs and alcohol have killed 21 people int that period. Opioids were involved in 18 of those deaths. Methamphetamine was involved in six deaths. Cocaine and alcohol were present in four deaths each.

Opioid poisonings have killed 1,411 Albertans during the same period. This is more than a 25 per cent increase from the same period last year, which reportedly saw 1,124 people die.

Opioid deaths peaked in April with 187 deaths. Overall drug poisonings also peaked in April with 195 deaths.

A file photo of Imperial Oil’s Kearl oilsands project. Photo by Supplied Image

Black bear euthanized after den at Imperial Oil’s Kearl site accidentally bulldozed

Imperial Oil is reviewing its policies after a black bear was euthanized after it was injured when its den was accidentally bulldozed.

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The Dec. 6 incident happened at the company’s Kearl site. The den was in an area close to administrative offices.

One black bear was in the den, and the company contacted the Alberta Energy Regulator and Alberta Fish and Wildlife.

Wildlife officers arriving at the site said the bear had to be euthanized because of its injuries.

The area was searched for bear dens before and after it was cleared of vegetation for the construction work. Unfortunately, protocols did not prevent the incident.

“We do ensure we have mitigations in place to make sure wildlife is protected. Unfortunately in this case, we did follow the protocols but this was still the outcome,” said Imperial Oil spokesperson Lisa Schmidt.

vista ridge
A snowmaking machine at Vista Ridge on December 9, 2023. Image by Nate Lupuliak

Vista Ridge confident in upcoming season as ski hills battle El Niño

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Keeping Vista Ridge’s ski hills open will be a challenge until more snow covers the hill, though. During budget presentations to council, Bernice Later, general manager of Vista Ridge, gave her blunt opinion shared by other ski hill operators across B.C. and Alberta.

“The weather is garbage for snowmaking,” she said at the Monday meeting. “The snowmaking team is fantastic but they’re not wizards. We can’t make ice in a fridge.”

Later is optimistic the upcoming season will be all downhill as the hills open today. Vista Ridge has been creating artificial snow non-stop. Mild and warm winters are common in her industry. This is not her first time battling a rough seasonal start.

“You have cold years and warm years, and you have snowy years and you have dry years. It’s just part of the industry. That’s why we all have snowmaking so that we can survive the dry years,” said Later. “And it’s northern Alberta. It’ll get cold eventually, right?”

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An aerial view Suncor’s tailings pond 8B at their oilsands mining operation north of Fort McMurray, Alta. on June 18, 2013. Ryan Jackson/Postmedia Network

Alberta researchers call for public inquiry into program to ensure oilsands cleanup

Alberta needs an open public inquiry into how the province ensures oilsands producers can pay to clean up after themselves, says a report from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

The researchers conclude Alberta’s Mine Financial Security Program cannot ensure Albertans won’t be picking up the tab for oilsands cleanup. The price tag is estimated from $45 billion to $130 billion, with $2 billion currently in reserve.

Cleanup isn’t expected to start for decades and the current regime allows companies to delay posting surety until mines are near the end of their lives. That means there will be less money for cleanup just when it’s needed, said co-author Martin Olszynski. He points to major environmental problems with bankrupt coal companies in the United States as a cautionary tale.

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“Companies can and do enter into financial distress,” said Olszynski.

Fort McKay murder
Wood Buffalo RCMP are seeking 21-year-old Fort McKay resident, Anton Grandjambe. Photo courtesy RCMP

Fort McKay murder suspect believed to be in Edmonton area: RCMP

Police continue searching for 21-year-old Anton Grandjambe, who has an arrest warrant on charges for a charge of second-degree murder in the death of 60-year-old Fort McKay resident Russell John Shott. Grandjambe is believed to be in the Edmonton area.

Last week, RCMP responded to a firearms complaint on Target Road in Fort McKay and advised all residents to take shelter. According to a family member of Shott, he was trying to break up an altercation when he was fatally shot.

Mounties describe Grandjambe as five-foot-nine inches tall, with black hair and brown eyes. He weighs approximately 163 lbs.

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He is considered armed and dangerous. Police say people should not approach Grandjambe if they see him. Call 911 or your local RCMP or police detachment.

The Wood Buffalo RCMP detachment in Timberlea in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Police in Fort McMurray investigating suspicious death, vehicle fire

Police are investigating a death on the Parsons Access Road near Highway 63. Investigators say the death is suspicious. A vehicle fire on Tower Road is also believed to be connected to the death.

Wood Buffalo RCMP responded to a call of a suspicious death at 10:10 a.m. on Tuesday. A few moments later, a vehicle fire was reported to officers.

Police spokesperson Cpl. Matthew Howell said the major crimes unit of Alberta RCMP is still trying to identify the victim. Howell said police could not yet confirm the make or model of the vehicle that was destroyed on Tower Road.

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A pedestrian makes their way past part of the interactive art installation Lucion Spheres moonGARDEN outside Edmonton City Hall on Monday Dec. 11, 2023. Photo by David Bloom
  • Hits the spot: A fossilized tyrannosaur found in the Alberta badlands was digesting lunch when it died between 75 and 77 million years ago. Researchers at the Royal Tyrell Museum found the dinosaur had eaten two birdlike dinosaurs called Citipides. The prey were eaten on two separate occasions, implying the tyrannosaur was a fussy eater like children today. The find represents the first solid evidence of the diet of juvenile tyrannosaurs.
  • ER crisis: Emergency room wait times have ballooned across the province, and hospitals are way past capacity in Edmonton. “It’s as bad as we’ve seen it in 25 years, that’s how bad it is right now,” said Dr. Paul Parks, head of the Alberta Medical Association.
  • Golf gaffe: Councillor Dan McLean of Calgary was forced to apologize after tuning into a July 26 meeting from the golf course. McLean apologized in a letter, but said the tournament was a homebuilders’ event. He felt “the industry golf tournament was an important opportunity to discuss our housing affordability crisis.” At least one councillor doubted the sincerity of McLean’s apology.
  • Prairie protection: More than 300 hectares of southwestern Alberta land will be conserved, forming a block of 2,900 conserved land. Most of the land is endangered Prairie grasslands, which are abundant in wildlife and hold water during the spring melt and early rains. The land also stores billions of tonnes of carbon in their root systems.
  • 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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