Suggestions on local transit projects made to McIver during Wood Buffalo trip

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After a two-day trip to Wood Buffalo, Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver is returning to the legislature with feedback and suggestions on dozens of proposed local transit projects. 

But citing cost restraints and the volume of other suggested projects across Alberta, McIver was not able to promise any of the suggested local projects would get funding in the province’s upcoming budget.

During a Wednesday interview, McIver said the main projects he heard about from Mayor Don Scott and councillors include the construction of the East Clearwater Highway. If built, it wouldform a secondary route between Anzac and Fort McKay, running parallel to Highway 63. 

In July, council approved to begin lobbying the provincial and federal governments for support on the project.

At the time, Scott argued the highway offers a route for dangerous goods around the city, gives emergency crews more options to move people during an evacuation and creates a natural fire break.


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“We have a ton of material that goes through this town,” he said. “It goes right by our hospital, it goes right by our aging-in-place facility.”

Other projects included improving Highway 63 between Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources, as well as sections of Highway 881.

“Every project the mayor and council asked for is a legitimate project,” said McIver. “I agree with them with the need for each of these things.”

Those concerns from community leaders continued during a Wednesday morning trip to Fort Chipewyan, where McIver says a permanent road linking the hamlet to Fort McMurray was mentioned by almost everyone he met. 

McIver was in the hamlet for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of an extension to the water treatment plant, with construction work finishing this past May.

The remoteness of Fort Chipewyan means the community is only accessible by plane or boat when no winter road is built. 

During the weeks when the Athabasca River is frozen but too soft to support a road, Councillor Bruce Inglis said the community is at a stand-still.

A fuel truck heads north on the Fort Chipewyan winter road on Friday, February 9, 2018. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Last November, council unanimously passed a motion askingthe federal and provincial governments to consider building an all-weather road for the community.

“I think it would change things dramatically,” said Inglis at the time. “We pay some of the highest heating and electrical rates in the province and along with that our consumables, our food and whatnot, is also very expensive.”

In the past, the idea of a permanent road has been raised, but those talks quickly died after engineering and building costs were raised. However, community leaders are pressing for its construction.


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“I think everyone realizes if it was easier and not expensive, it would already be there,” said McIver. “On the other hand, that doesn’t change the fact that it would be a positive contributor to the quality of life there and make everything a lot less expensive.”

McIver offered no guarantees on projects mentioned, only promising they would be discussed during budget meetings. Some projects may get funding, others could be shortlisted for future budgets. Others may get no funding at all this time around.

The upcoming budget is expected to be a trim one, after the release of the MacKinnon Report earlier this month. The report said operating expenses must be cut by at least $600 million if the budget is to be balanced by 2022-23.No government program or department was spared.

“What is important for consideration is hearing the local angle,” said McIver. “This is goodtiming for the mayor and council to have made their desires and needs and wishes known. We will consider it carefully amongst the long list of legitimate projects requested across Alberta.”

–  With files from Laura Beamish