Area residents packed the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s council chambers for a heated meeting Tuesday evening, as councillors met for the first time in downtown Fort McMurray since a massive wildfire forced them to meet in Edmonton for the past month.
Many residents took the opportunity to address councillors and complain about the wildfire evacuation process as well as recovery efforts.
Mayor Melissa Blake said she was confident the rebuilding process would begin within 100 days but no decision had been made on the rebuild of any subdivision. However, a proposed bylaw amendment to temporarily suspend development for the hard-hit communities of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways, passed first reading and was set to come back for a second reading and debate.
The municipality’s administration had urged council to amend the Land Use Bylaw to allow for a 90-day development moratorium on the three communities which have been deemed unfit for habitation because of the detection of high levels of toxins. The moratorium is aimed at allowing officials to do more research and engage with those areas’ residents to come up with a redevelopment plan.
Another controversial motion was brought forward which would have restricted Mayor Melissa Blake from meetings held by the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee, a proposed group which would oversee the recovery effort.
“We don’t often go to these meetings,” Blake said. “It’s not like I’m going to go there to be a problem for these guys and yet they’ve made it a problem for me by saying I can’t attend…so I’m offended by that one and I’m saying I’m here to represent the citizens.
“The bomb that was dropped on me here tonight is not something I’m about to bend and accept as it is,” Blake added.
The motion passed first reading and second reading but council said there would be no there would be no third reading Tuesday night because of the heated emotions surrounding the issue.
Other issues of debate were a proposed bylaw to relax laws on RVs in order to allow people to more easily use them as temporary accommodations and a proposed bylaw that would allow council to continue restricting access to Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways.
The mayor said the public seating gallery was full of residents and was spilling into two separate overflow rooms.
The meeting ran late and was still ongoing at 11 p.m. MT.