January 29, 2019 4:03 pm
Updated: January 31, 2019 1:07 pm

Fort McMurray work camp moratorium is ‘roadblock for development’: oilsands association

WATCH ABOVE: Wood Buffalo city council voted Monday evening to halt all oilsands camp renewals within a 75-kilometre radius of the city by June.

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The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo city council has imposed a moratorium on work camps in and around Fort McMurray.

On Monday night, council unanimously voted in favour of a motion to halt all oilsands camp renewals within a 75 kilometres radius of the northern Alberta community by June.

READ MORE: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo sees nearly 11 per cent population drop since 2015

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The mayor said the bylaw is a victory for Wood Buffalo’s economy because decreasing the commuter workforce in the oilsands will help local businesses and housing.

Shafak Sajid, policy analyst with Oil Sands Community Alliance (OCSA), said it is disappointing council ignored the evidence presented by stakeholders.

“Any moratorium, with any radius, is a roadblock for development, which will hurt the competitiveness of the oilsands industry and our ability to recruit and retain workers,” Sajid said.

“Camps are built for many reasons. They are crucial to operations and are also used for maintenance and turnaround.”

According to the municipality’s planning department, the moratorium will impact 61 camps, which house over 27,000 people.

Sajid said the association’s greatest priority is worker safety and camps improve safety.

“In some cases, camps are used because travel times to project sites are far too long,” she said. “Camps reduce risks to the safety of our workers and local residents by reducing traffic on roads. Camps also provide temporary accommodations for short-term workers used for turnaround projects.”

READ MORE: Luxury still sells as vacancy rates rise in Alberta’s oilsands workcamp sector

The bylaw does leave room for work camps during “extraordinary circumstances” such as turnaround, exploration, maintenance periods and capital projects. The motion also says it will not apply to any camps that are not accessible by road.

Sajid said the new bylaw will create a strain on housing, infrastructure and traffic in the community.

“As we heard from the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo planning and development department, the community cannot handle 5,000 to 10,000 households let alone over 27,000 households any time soon,” she said.

OSCA said work camps provide over $16 million in tax revenue to the municipality, and in order to make up for that loss, about 15,000 households would have to move into the region.

The original 120-kilometre proposal was defeated before the altered 75-kilometre motion was presented and passed.

READ MORE: Study suggests Non-resident workers negatively impacting Fort McMurray

A study conducted in 2018 by University of Alberta scientists suggested people who work in Fort McMurray but don’t live in the community may be having a negative impact on the community.

The researchers found three main outcomes: fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers have little interaction with the local community; permanent residents are concerned about the strain the workers put on the infrastructure and services that they don’t support with tax dollars and the use of FIFO workers has a negative effect on place attachment and long-term sustainability in the city.

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