Weekly update: a new CAO, EMS funding for the RMWB and a murder charge

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

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Good morning, Fort McMurray!

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  • Fort McMurray Oil Barons vs. Sherwood Park Crusaders: Oct. 5 at Centerfire Place at 7:30 p.m. Schedule is online.
  • Trivia: General knowledge trivia is Oct. 12 at Brewskis Pub at 7 p.m. Boy Bands vs. Girl Bands Music Bingo is Oct. 11 at Canadian Brewhouse at 6 p.m.
  • NAABA AGM celebration: The Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association hosts its annual general meeting on Oct. 12 at Shell Place. This year’s entertainment is Kehewin Native Dance Theatre and keynote speaker is Jody Wilson-Raybould. Doors open at 5 p.m., program begins at 6 p.m., closing remarks at 9:30 p.m. Tickets and sponsorships are online.
  • Keyano Theatre presents Clue: Runs until Oct. 14. Tickets can be bought online.
  • After Hours with Dallas Smith: Featuring special guest JoJo Mason. Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. at the CNOOC Field House at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre. Tickets online.
  • An Evening with Jillian Harris: Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at MacDonald Island Park, doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets online.
  • YMM Pumpkins & Planes Family Fun Event: Fort McMurray International Airport on Oct. 21 at noon. Tickets online.
  • Buffys 2023: Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards: Fort McMurray’s premier arts event is back! This year’s theme is Midnight at the Moulin Rouge. Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets online.
  • Join a RMWB committee: The RMWB has 65 spots on 15 municipal boards and committees. Apply by Oct. 23. Information online.
  • Momentum 2023: Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism hosts its annual conference on Oct. 26 at Shell Place. Keynote speaker Kendall Dilling, president of Pathways Alliance, and other provincial and local leaders will talk about innovation locally and in Alberta. Tickets are online.
  • Turn traffic boxes into art: Artists are paid $700 if their work is picked. RMWB accepting proposals until Oct. 27.
  • “Raining on Dreams” exhibition: Raining on Dreams, an exhibition featuring original art work by local resident Lasha Barbosa. Lasha has overcome extraordinary challenges to forge a unique creative path. Her journey encompasses a triumphant battle against brain tumors, chronic pain, and mental health hurdles. Runs until Oct. 27 at the Kirschner Family Community Art Gallery.
  • Council’s Excellence Award: Nominations for outstanding citizens are open until Oct. 30.
  • Feedback on recycling and garbage services: The RMWB wants feedback for their Solid Waste Management Plan. Complete the survey by Oct. 31 for a chance to win prizes. Information and the survey is online.

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keyano
The Syncrude Technology Centre building on the Keyano College Clearwater campus in Fort McMurray Alta. on Sunday, April 19, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Keyano gets $9.2M from province as college tries keeping youth in Fort McMurray

The Alberta government is investing $9.2 million into maintenance and program expansions at Keyano College. 

The funding is needed to train workers in high-demand fields, but provincial and community leaders hope similar investments across rural Alberta will encourage young people to learn and work in their home communities.

Jay Notay, president and CEO of Keyano, said there are roughly 2,500 students enrolled at the college, which is roughly what Keyano College had just before the COVID-19 pandemic. He is expecting 3,500 students in the near future.

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He also estimates more than half of youth graduating high school in upcoming years will leave Fort McMurray. Notay says this trend was ongoing long before the pandemic or the 2016 Horse River Wildfire.

The college has responded by adding or modifying 18 programs as part of what Notay calls “growth mode.”

“This is something that is a serious concern of ours,” said Notay.

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The Wood Buffalo RCMP detachment in Timberlea in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Fort McMurray man charged with second degree murder

Police have charged a man with the second degree murder of Norman Lineham, 43, of Fort McMurray.

Wood Buffalo RCMP say the arrest was made Saturday afternoon in Anzac without incident. Matthew Thomas Cooper, 39, of Fort McMurray remains in custody. He made is first appearance in the Alberta Court of Justice in Fort McMurray on Oct. 2.

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An Alberta RCMP spokesperson said police were called to Lineham’s home on Sept. 21 at 7:45 p.m. Lineham had not been seen in a few days so an individual who knew him visited his home. His body was found in his basement suite.

This is Fort McMurray’s third confirmed homicide of the year, all of which have happened in September. Police say the deaths are not related to each other. Investigators do not believe any of the victims were randomly targeted.

Police are investigating the murder of Keelin Kortzman, 17. His body was found Sept. 14 at Gregoire Lake.  A man who has yet to be publicly identified was fatally shot on Sept. 24 on Tundra Drive.

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Henry Hunter, chief administrative officer of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Image supplied by RMWB

Wood Buffalo Housing’s Henry Hunter hired as new CAO of the RMWB

Henry Hunter, an engineer who is no stranger to the RMWB, has been hired as the new Chief Administrative Officer.

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Hunter has been president and CEO of Wood Buffalo Housing for the past seven years. He was also the municipality’s executive director of public infrastructure and planning at the RMWB between February 2012 and June 2014.

“This region has been my home for over a decade, and I have a vested interest in helping to realize its full potential,” said Hunter in a statement. “We have a lot of work ahead and I’m excited to get started.”

Hunter was at Wood Buffalo Housing during a transformative time. He had to adapt to high vacancies and also signed housing agreements with Indigenous and rural communities in the region.

Hunter has held management positions with the City of Winnipeg, Earth Tech Canada, Qatar Petroleum and Keyano College. His resignation from the RMWB came amidst a shakeup of how senior administrative staff are paid and recruited at the municipality.

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Hunter is the RMWB’s sixth CAO in the past 10 years. The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy says the average CAO’s tenure in Alberta has been roughly two years since 2003.

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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 agrees to full cost recovery for integrated EMS in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

The Alberta government has agreed to fully fund the unique EMS system covering the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region.

AHS committed to full cost recovery for EMS on Oct. 1. This funding will be included in a six-month interim deal and any new agreement with the RMWB and Alberta Health Services (AHS), said municipal spokesperson Greg Bennett.

The deal comes a week after municipal councillors unanimously voted to extend its previous contract with AHS while pushing for a contract that includes full cost recovery for EMS. The municipality paid nearly $2.5 million annually under the previous EMS contract that ran from 2014 to March 2022. The province covered the remaining costs of nearly $7.2 million.

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A tailings pond at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake oilsands operation north of Fort McMurray on February 25, 2023. Image by Nicholas Vardy for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Imperial, regulator knew for years about Kearl tailings seepage: documents

Documents filed by Imperial Oil show the company and Alberta’s energy regulator knew the Kearl oilsands mine was seeping tailings into groundwater years before a pool of contaminated fluid was reported on the surface, alarming area First Nations and triggering three investigations.

“They knew there was seepage to groundwater,” said Mandy Olsgard, an environmental toxicologist who has consulted for area First Nations. “The (Alberta Energy Regulator) and Imperial decided not to notify the public and just manage it internally.”

Imperial said in a statement that seepage was anticipated in Kearl’s original design. Spokeswoman Lisa Schmidt said the company has kept both the regulator and area communities informed.

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Both the Mikisew and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation use the area outside the mine lease for traditional activities such as hunting and gathering. Both nations are downstream of the mine and say they fear for their water quality.

The chiefs of the MCFN and ACFN both reject a report that found the AER followed its communications protocols regarding the ongoing leaks at Kearl. Chief Allan Adam of ACFN is threatening legal action.

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The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray, Alta. on October 14, 2020. Sarah Williscraft/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Police in Fort McMurray locate women missing from hospital since Sunday

Police in Fort McMurray have located two women that went missing from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre last weekend.

The two women, aged 28 and 45, were reported missing on Oct. 1. Wood Buffalo RCMP had concerns about their wellbeing. Police announced on Oct. 4 that they had been found earlier in the day. The two women are safe.

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Police did not provide any further details about where the women were found or why they left the hospital.

fort hills
Heavy hauler trucks unload into a crusher at the Fort Hills oilsands project on Monday, September 10, 2018. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Suncor buys TotalEnergies’ oilsands stake for C$1.47 billion

Suncor announced Wednesday it is acquire French energy firm TotalEnergies’ Canadian operations for C$1.47 billion ($1.07 billion) to bolster its bitumen production capacity.

This gives Suncor full ownership of the Fort Hills oilsands project. Fort Hills has struggled with operational challenges since starting production in early 2018.

Last year Suncor forecast 5% lower gross production and higher operating costs per barrel at Fort Hills over the next three years as a result of long-term improvement plans for the project.

trans mountain
A pipe yard servicing government-owned oil pipeline operator Trans Mountain is seen in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier/File Photo Photo by JENNIFER GAUTHIER /REUTERS

Trans Mountain CEO expects opening of pipeline expansion by end of March, potential sale within two years

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Trans Mountain Corp. CEO Dawn Farrell says the oil pipeline expansion project is on track to begin commercial operations by the end of March, but acknowledges the mammoth development still faces pressures as construction enters the home stretch.

In her first interview since taking on the job as chief executive of the federal Crown corporation, Farrell said the $30.9-billion project remains “in that range,” with only 16 kilometres of pipeline left to put in the ground.

Once construction is complete, it will allow for testing, commissioning work and filling the line with 4.5 million barrels of oil, which should begin near the end of January.

Concluding a long-awaited sale of the pipeline back into private-sector hands could happen potentially in early 2025, she said in a wide-ranging discussion on the project’s future.

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“I would say in terms of the construction, we’re in the ninth inning. So, we’re getting close to finishing,” Farrell, who took over the corporation’s helm in August 2022, said Thursday.

Alberta Roundup

rodeo
Sawyer Eirikson gets an 82.5 on his ride in the saddlebronc competition at the Edmonton Pro Rodeo for a qualifying spot at the Canadian Finals Rodeo. Taken on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 in Edmonton. Photo by Greg Southam/Postmedia

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