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Fort McMurray tunes out Neil Young after he blasts oilsands

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – Neil Young can keep on talking in the free world, but Fort McMurray won’t be listening.

A local rock radio station stopped playing the Canuck singer’s music for a day after he compared the northern Alberta oilsands city to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb.

On-air personality Chris Byrne at Rock 97.9 then asked his listeners if the ban should be extended indefinitely.

Neil supporters were in the majority, but when station staff looked at their email addresses, most came from out of town.

So with local opinion firmly against him, Young has been pulled from the station’s playlist. No more Heart of Gold in the heart of the oilsands.

“We’re going to continue with our ban,” said Byrne, who said he used to play two or three Young tunes a day.

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Byrne had declared Wednesday to be a “No Neil” day after a news conference Young held the previous day in Washington, D.C..

It was there that he declared Fort McMurray to be a wasteland.

“The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima,” said Young, who visited the city earlier this summer. “There’s fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town.”

About 600 replied to Byrne’s survey. About 44 per cent wanted to keep Young on the air, 36 never wanted to hear him again and the rest asked, “Who cares?” or “Who’s Neil Young?”

“Rock listeners are pretty apathetic people,” said Byrne.

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“It takes a lot to get their ire up. But based on the number of emails and voice mails that I’ve gotten, I don’t think … a topic … has caused more people to call in or write in than this – including our MLA getting caught with a prostitute.”

People in the city of 76,000 get used to being tarred with the brush of the oilsands, he said. Byrne acknowledged that many outsiders use “Fort McMurray” as verbal shorthand to refer to the mines, not the community.

But Young went too far, he said.

“To (put) Fort McMurray on the same level as a nuclear bomb, dropped to end a world war – when you get to that extreme, you kind of have to get into specifics.”

The owner of a Fort McMurray video production company has also weighed in on Young’s controversial comments. Tim Moen was recently asked to do some filming in Fort McMurray for a project Young is working on.

In a blog entry posted Tuesday, Moen – who has described himself as “pro-oil and pro-environment” on his Twitter account – acknowledges the efforts Young is making. But he also points out what he feels was lacking from the musician’s filming agenda in the area.

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“We did not film any reclaimed land. We didn’t film any new extraction operations using greener technology. We didn’t film any industry experts. We didn’t film Neil’s diesel burning bus that his crew rode in. We didn’t film the environmentally conscious community active in Fort McMurray. That stuff wasn’t on the agenda.”

As for Young’s comparison of Fort McMurray and Hiroshima, Moen has the following to say:

“I wonder if he meant Nuked Hiroshima or beautiful reclaimed Hiroshima today…These are serious claims that paint a pretty bleak picture and seem to lack any evidence.”

He ends with this message to the Canadian singer and song-writer:

“If you would’ve looked a bit closer at the people in this community developing this resource you’d have found people of kindred spirit, we are concerned about the environment and about the health of those that live around the oil sands…this is where our children live. We want to leave this world a better place like you do and we have the energy to do just that. I challenge you to find a community of oil producers anywhere else in this world that more closely aligns with your values of stewardship and respect for this Earth and it’s [sic] people. Not only do we not stone people to death, we don’t even use plastic grocery bags.”

With files from Patricia Kozicka, Global News