Weekly update: The great outdoors and council fires FMWBEDT's board

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Good morning, Fort McMurray!

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  • Wood Buffalo Mural Fest submission: Mural artists from across Canada are expected to submit an artist proposal. Up to five will be picked. Compensation is based on size and scope of the project. Most supplies and equipment will be provided. The festival features live mural painting and workshops celebrating art, culture and the community. Proposals and applications to host murals due April 15. Information.
  • FMFD Rooftop Campout: Fort McMurray firefighters are camping on the roof of the Eagle Ridge Tim Hortons again this year to raise money for local charities. Last year they raised $30,700 for the food bank, SPCA, Boys and Girls Club, Waypoints and the Centre of Hope. East Village Pub is hosting a pub night on April 19 and a family pancake breakfast on April 20 to support the campaign.
  • Northword Magazine’s Issue 29 Launch: The Northern Canada Collective Society of Writers launches NorthWord Magazine’s 29th issue, the Resilience edition. Guest edited by local poet and dance instructor Tineesha McKay. This free event, including an open mic, is at the Observation Area of the Fort McMurray International Airport on April 20 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Registration.
  • Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Keyano Theatre Company invites you to step into the lavish and decadent world of the 18th-century French aristocracy, where desire and treachery reign supreme. Keyano Theatre on April 26-27 and May 2-4. Tickets.
  • Drama Force: The Keyano Theatre Company’s young actors’ summer intensive program opens for registration soon. The program runs from July 29-August 17. Registration will be [tickets.keyano.ca]here on April 30 at 12:30 p.m.
  • Northern Bout: Western Canada’s highest stakes drift competition matched with freestyle motocross, monster trucks and stunt bikes. May 3 and 4 at MacDonald Island Park. Tickets.
  • Street Banner Program: Residents of all ages are invited to showcase their talents through the Street Banner Program. Selected designs will receive a $600 design fee. This year’s theme is Spirit of Water. Submissions will be shown across the region and at the Kirschner Family Community Art Gallery. Deadline is May 3 at 4 p.m. Information.
  • Red Dress Solidarity Walk and Memorial Round Dance: An event honouring the thousands of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people who have gone missing or been murdered. May 5 at Kiyam Community Park from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information.
  • Art for Social Change: Artists from Western Canada can submit proposals for site-specific public art installations creatively exploring the theme of accessibility. The call is open to any discipline. Up to six projects will be selected, each with a budget of up to $10,000. Deadline is May 6. Information.
  • Monster Pro Wrestling’s Dirty Deeds: Monster Pro Wrestling returns to Fort McMurray on May 11 at the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. Doors open at 6 p.m. Information and tickets.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Giants: Tickets and schedule for the upcoming baseball season are online. Opening day is May 24 against the Edmonton Prospects.
  • 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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gregg saretsky
Gregg Saretsky, former CEO of WestJet and current board chair of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT), speaks at the Momentum 2022 conference at Shell Place in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Oct. 19, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Council fires FMWBEDT’s board of directors

Council has unanimously voted to fire the board of directors for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT).

RMWB chief administrative officer (CAO) Henry Hunter will appoint councilors to the board as interim members. Mayor Sandy Bowman will be board chair. The organization’s current president and CEO, Kevin Weidlich, will report directly to council.

The original board included former WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky (pictured) as board chair. Saretsky was paid $10,000 per month. The rest of the board were volunteers. Weidlich estimates in an interview that expenses for the entire board totals roughly $10,000 per year.

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The motion was proposed by Councillor Keith McGrath, a critic of FMWBEDT’s leadership. Councillors Jane Stroud, Funky Banjoko and Kendrick Cardinal also said they were frustrated with FMWBEDT’s progress.

“I was not a fan of this because I’ve seen too many people come to our region and develop their own careers, and I don’t think we’ve got our bang for our buck,” McGrath said in a 15-minute speech.

Weidlich said the relationship between the board and council never recovered from a 2022 funding dispute. He argued building relationships with investors is a lengthy process, but said the organization has made victories.

Weidlich said in 2023, FMWBEDT brought in more than $30-million in economic support that has created more than 600 local jobs, and lured 23 new businesses to the region.

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A wildland firefighter with Alberta Wildfire watches a controlled burn incinerate dead, dry vegetation by Highway 63 near the Thickwood overpass on April 11, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Controlled burns start to fight wildfires with fire

Since April 9, controlled burns in Fort McMurray have been turning dead, dry vegetation into ash. Without these burns, this vegetation could fuel wildfires that spark in the region.

This year’s priority areas for controlled burns are Thickwood, Wood Buffalo and the north access of Parsons Creek.

If there is time and resources available, controlled burns could be done in other areas, such as the Morgan Heights neighbourhood in Timberlea.

Controlled burns in the forest are subject to provincial fire bans. Last year’s controlled burn season was cut short because of the dry weather that came with the 2023 wildfire season. However, burns within the urban area can be carried out at the discretion of the regional fire chief.

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The municipality and the Alberta government have spent months preparing for this year’s wildfire season, which started 10 days early on Feb. 20. Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz is urging people to be calm and prepared after last year’s wildfire season was marked by the evacuation of Fort Chipewyan, and dozens of smoky days.

Chunks of river ice beneath bridges crossing the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray, Alberta on Sunday, April 26, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

What to know about Fort McMurray’s 2024 river break season

It’s river breakup season in Fort McMurray and the municipality is warning people to be careful around the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers.

The river breakup season is complete when Fort McMurray and surrounding areas are no longer at risk of flooding from ice jams along the Clearwater and Athabasca rivers.

Here’s an explainer of what is river break season, what to expect, what’s the deal with berms, when flood berms and dams will be finished, and why you should stay away from the river (the above photo was taken from a distance with a zoom lens).

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An off-highway vehicle rider drives along a road close to the Horse River near Abasand on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

Council approves starting OHV pilot program for Abasand roads

Council has unanimously approved starting a pilot program that lets people in Abasand drive their off-highway vehicles from their homes to nearby trails. The program will start sometime in June and last for two years, so long as council approves a bylaw that will be presented in May.

Snowmobiles and three-wheelers are not included in the plan, but people can use public roads to drive their side-by-sides, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheelers and dirt bikes to the trails.

“A lot of the people that are using this are already the people in Abasand that are doing this. They’ll just be doing it legally now as opposed to illegally,” said Councillor Allan Grandison.

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Jonathan Feener and Jason Mills of the Wood Buffalo Recreational Riders’ Association, which includes 5,000 members, said the organization supports the pilot program. Any feedback the organization gave came from those members, said Feener.

Mills’ lone criticism was the hours are inconvenient for people who ride in early or late hours. Councillor Kendrick Cardinal said he hopes those hours change.

An aerial view of Syncrude’s Aurora North oilsands mine near Fort McKay. Ryan Jackson/Postmedia Network Photo by Ryan Jackson / Edmonton Journal

Syncrude paying $390,000 penalty after pleading guilty to 2021 workplace death

Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) says that on June 6, 2021, a worker at Syncrude’s Aurora mine was building a berm with a John Deere excavator when the bank slumped into fresh water. The worker could not escape the excavator’s fully submerged cab and drowned.

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OHS accused Syncrude of letting the worker use the excavator on a ramp with a slope that was too steep, and of not restricting access to a ramp that led to the water body.

Provincial guidelines state workers should consider leaving seatbelts unbuckled and doors opened when heavy equipment is used within five metres of a water body. OHS argued this guideline was not followed prior to the accident.

Those same guidelines also say risks facing traffic or the ground must be studied when ground conditions are unknown or surface cracks are discovered. A geotechnical engineer must approve those surveys before a safe access plan is completed. OHS argued Syncrude did not follow this step, either.

Representatives for Syncrude pleaded guilty on April 4 at the Fort McMurray Court of Justice to failure to ensure the health and safety of a worker. Four other charges were dropped.

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An ambulance parked outside the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre in Fort McMurray on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Robert Murray/Special to Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

AHS and RMWB sign EMS agreement that includes full cost recovery

A new municipal agreement with Alberta Health Services (AHS) will fully fund the unique EMS system covering the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region. The agreement is a fulfillment of a provincial promise made last October that the Alberta government would fully fund local EMS when the current contract ended on March 31.

AHS took over EMS in the region in 2009. The integrated fire and EMS department for the region, however, means the RMWB had to cover extra costs not under previous contacts. Higher labour costs and EMS call volumes across the region makes the model expensive for the RMWB.

Last September, municipal councillors unanimously voted to extend its previous contract with AHS while pushing for a contract that includes full cost recovery for EMS. With this new agreement, Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo is Alberta’s first community to have a fully integrated model backed by AHS.

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Timothy Byron
Timothy Byron was elected the newest FMCSD trustee in a byelection on April 8, 2024. Image supplied by Timothy Byron

Timothy Byron elected FMCSD’s newest trustee in byelection

Timothy Byron has been elected as the newest trustee for the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD). The unofficial results show Byron beat his only opponent, Louis Elliott Pierre, 254-227.

Byron was elected in an April 8 byelection. FMCSD’s board of trustees has been short one trustee since November after the resignation of former trustee Jonathan Higdon.

Byron is a senior lawyer in Fort McMurray. In a Q&A that was sent to both Byron and Pierre, Byron said his top priorities as a trustee will be “to advocate for Catholic education generally and seek appropriate funding for the new curriculum to ensure resources are in place for teachers.”

He also said he hopes to “promote a strong board governance process, to emphasize fairness and equity in hiring and employment retention, and to allocate budgets appropriately.”

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Clockwise from left: Sherina Marie Handsor, Jimmy Allen Fransen and Brenda Disher (also known as Brenda Fransen). Images by Alberta RCMP

Three charged with multiple abuse offences against children in Fort McMurray, Edson:

A Fort McMurray couple and a woman from Sandy Beach, Alta. have been charged with multiple offences against children. I can’t be more specific about the charges because filters might mark this email as spam, but the article has details that some readers could find disturbing.

Police believe the incidents in Edson took place between 2005 and 2011, and in Fort McMurray between 2017 and 2023. Investigators believe there may be more incidents and are asking people with information to come forward.

Police have charged, clockwise from left, Sherina Marie Handsor, Jimmy Allen Fransen and Brenda Disher (also known as Brenda Fransen).

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Four men charged with firearms offences in Fort Chipewyan:

At approximately 12 p.m. on April 5, police received a complaint of a vehicle driving in the community with a firearm.

A short time later, RCMP located a vehicle and arrested four occupants. A search resulted in a seizure of a loaded .22 calibre handgun as well as multiple spent .22 calibre casings.

Fort McMurray man one of two victims in fatal crash north of Moose Jaw:

Moose Jaw RCMP say that on April 5 at 6:15 a.m., officers, local firefighters and EMS responded to a crash about 30 kilometres north of Moose Jaw near Sandy Point.

Emergency workers arriving at the Highway 2 crash found the driver of one vehicle, who was also the only person in the vehicle, had been killed. A passenger in a second vehicle was also declared dead at the scene by EMS.

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The victims have been identified as a 56-year-old man from Fort McMurray and a 52-year-old woman from India.

Fly fisher Garry Rauch casts his line on the Bow River in Calgary on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia
  • Booze boast: Edmonton Journal reporter Lauren Boothby spotted two 4L jugs of vodka at a St. Albert liquor store. She posted a photo of them to her Twitter, commenting “Alberta rules.” This went viral and Alberta Service Alberta Minister Dale Nally called the jugs “not very responsible.” The distillery that made the vodka has stopped using the jugs.
  • Pronoun fight: Alberta is joining the Saskatchewan government’s appeal to stop a constitutionality challenge of its pronoun consent law. Saskatchewan’s pronoun policy requires parental consent for students under 16 to change their pronouns or their names. The province used the notwithstanding clause to make it law. A legal challenge has been filed against the policy.
  • Teacher trouble: Educators are reporting more incidents of aggression from students and parents, according to a survey from the Alberta Teachers’ Association. About 52 per cent of teachers reported bullying or violence in schools, with most aggression happening in person and 60 per cent of incidents in their own classrooms.
  • Rx for more docs: Medical students from the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta held meetings with MLAs at the Alberta legislature to discuss their concerns about the future of family medicine in the province. Their suggestions for tackling doctor shortages include better remuneration for family physicians and increasing seats at medical schools.
  • Permission needed: Premier Danielle Smith has introduced a bill that, if passed, will require hundreds of provincial entities — including municipalities and post-secondary institutions — to get approval from the Alberta government before signing deals with Ottawa. Smith said the move will ensure federal funding is aligned with provincial priorities.
  • 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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