Weekly update: Lake Athabasca's slack, baseball's back, firefighters patrol the black

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • Métis Fest: McMurray Métis invites the public to a vibrant celebration of Métis heritage. Taking place at MacDonald Island Park near the site of the Métis Cultural Centre. Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Multiculturalism Day Festival: A day celebrating the cultures, foods and performances of the different cultures found in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. June 1 at Fort McMurray Heritage Village from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets.
  • 2024 Pride YMM Festival: Pride Month in Fort McMurray opens June 1 with a flag raising ceremony at Kiyam Community Park from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. The eighth annual Pride YMM Festival returns to Heritage Shipyard on June 22. A list of local Pride Month events are online.
  • Fort McMurray Giants: Baseball action at Legacy Dodge Field against the Sylvan Lake Gulls on June 5, Sylvan Lake Gulls on June 6, Regina Red Sox on June 7-8, Okotoks Dawgs on June 20-23, Weyburn Beavers on June 26-27, Brooks Bombers on June 29-July 2. Drum Brewery hosts watch parties of away games. Tickets and schedule.
  • Rock the Rails: Rock The Rails is back! Featuring legendary punk band Authority Zero and more than a dozen other acts from across Canada and the United States. June 7-8 at Syncrude Athletic Park. Information.
  • Calgary Stampede Art Sneak Peak: Fort McMurray artist Amy Keller-Rempp is one of this year’s esteemed artists at the Calgary Stampede Artist Studios. Keller-Rempp invites the community for an exclusive art preview ahead of he Stampede. June 10 at Fort McMurray Golf Club from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Event details.
  • West Coast Amusements: Canada’s biggest travelling carnival returns to Fort McMurray. June 13-17. Tickets.
  • Fort McMurray Fringe Festival: Local theatre company Theatre, Just Because is launching the first Fort McMurray Fringe Festival at Heritage Village on Aug. 31. Submissions are open until June 14. Information on submissions and the festival.
  • Western Canada Ribfest Tour: This free event will be a drive-thru ribfest at Centerfire Place on June 21 and 22 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and June 23 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Take the Pledge: Want a chance to win a helicopter ride AND reduce wildfire risk? Pledge to reduce wildfires in the Fort McMurray Forest Area by August 16 and you’ll be entered to win a helicopter tour of the region! Take the pledge today online.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts all-ages weekly events.
  • MacDonald Island Park updates its website with upcoming events and programs.
  • Wood Buffalo Volunteers has volunteer opportunities for different causes and non-profits across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.
  • Obituaries: Obituaries, memorial notices and sympathy announcements.

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hot spot
Cadhan Moore sprays a hot spot with water in an area burned by a wildfire southwest of Fort McMurray on Wednesday, May 21, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Wildland firefighters patrol charred forests near Fort McMurray as wildfire season continues

Wildland firefighters call it the black.

It was once lush Boreal Forest southwest of Fort McMurray. Now it’s ash and charred tree trunks leftover from a mid-May wildfire. The wildfire has been under control since Sunday and is no longer a threat.

To keep it that way, wildland firefighters patrol the black for hot spots. Even after heavy rainfall, it is common for wildfires to smoulder underground and feed on peat and dead vegetation. If ignored, the fire could return to the surface.

On a cold and wet Wednesday morning, dozens of firefighters crisscross the black. They look for smoke, warm spots and any other sign the fire still thrives underground.

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Searching for hot spots is one of the many duties that Alberta’s wildland firefighters have during what is expected to be a busy wildfire season. The work is long and gruelling. They carry axes, chainsaws, water pumps, shovels, food, survival gear and plenty of hoses towards the fight.

“A lot of times fires will look the same on the ground, but there’s always something that happens on the fire that looks a little bit different,” said Cadhan Moore, a unit crew subleader.

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Low water levels at the Fort Chipewyan Wharf on May 11, 2024. Image supplied by Guy Thacker of Fort Chip Marine Transport

Low water levels around Fort Chipewyan grounds barge, large boats

This is the time of year when Guy Thacker is usually preparing to load his barge with vehicles, building supplies and cargo for Fort Chipewyan. But water levels in the Athabasca River and Lake Athabasca are the lowest he’s ever seen in the 22 years he’s travelled the rivers of northeastern Alberta.

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“It’s high and dry when it’s supposed to be busy for me. This year I can’t even get out of the harbour. It’s impossible,” said Thacker, a Métis man and owner of Fort Chip Marine Transport. “It’s a low-margin business when you factor in the weather and insurance. One season of not barging is going to hurt. It could almost bankrupt me.”

Reaching Fort Chipewyan is at the mercy of weather because Fort Chipewyan can only be reached by boats, planes or a winter road. There is no permanent road connecting the hamlet to Fort McMurray or Fort Smith, NWT.

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) says the water levels show why a permanent road is needed.

He has met with Mayor Sandy Bowman and the mayor of Fort Smith, NWT. about the topic, and Adam says there is agreement that an all-weather road is needed. He has been lobbying the provincial and federal governments to support a route.

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“We’re in dire straits. There’s nothing coming downstream,” said Adam. “You see it once in awhile when a west wind is blowing really hard, but nothing like this.”

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An aerial view of downtown Fort McMurray Alta. next to the Athabasca and Clearwater River on Thursday May 4, 2017. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network Photo by Robert Murray /Robert Murray/Today Staff

Council approves tax exemptions for industries new to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

Council has approved a program offering up to 10 years of low municipal taxes for new industries in the natural resources sector. It is hoped the program will bring new people and industries to the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region while encouraging young people to stay.

The bylaw targets new projects with a minimum eligible capital cost of $25 million. The project must bring at least 250 employees during construction or maintain 15 staff while operating.

It offers a 1 per cent exemption on eligible capital costs and 2.5 per cent if the company offers housing benefits. The total exemption would be no more than 80 per cent.

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The exemption lasts 10 years for projects valued at $50 million and five years if they are valued at $25 million, or until the maximum is reached.

Eligible companies and projects must not have a commute of more than an hour from Fort McMurray. Work camps are not eligible for the program. White compared the program to similar incentives offered by the municipal governments in Strathcona County and Sturgeon County.

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MLA Guy Boutilier speaks with seniors at the Rotary House’s seniors’ facility in downtown Fort McMurray on January 31, 2008. Photo by Carl Patzel/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Council approves motion to consider naming assets after current, former leaders

Council has ordered administration to look at naming municipal assets after current and former elected officials. This includes First Nation chiefs, presidents of Métis communities and other Indigenous leaders.

While the RMWB has a naming committee, elected officials were removed in 2022 unless they had made “a significant contribution to the community.”

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Councillor Lance Bussieres proposed the motion following the passing of Guy Boutilier, who had a 28-year political career that included roles as councillor, mayor and MLA.

Bussieres wondered about naming the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre after Boutilier and local seniors’ advocate Dave McNeely. He also mentioned naming the Birchwood Trails after former councillor Phil Meagher and the Anzac Recreation Centre after Councillor Jane Stroud. He felt something should be named after former mayor Melissa Blake.

The idea excited other councillors, who also gave their own suggestions for officials who should be honoured.

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Joe Finder of the Fort McMurray Giants celebrates during the home opening game at Legacy Dodge Field on May 24, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray Giants ready for aggressive season after mixed opening home games

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The Fort McMurray Giants kicked off the season with a massive 13-3 victory against the Edmonton Prospects on Friday night at Legacy Dodge Field. But what began as a victorious season opener turned into a weekend of mixed fortunes as the Prospects won 6-5 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday.

Joe Ellison, head coach of the Giants, is hopeful in the team’s abilities this season and hopes for 36 victories. Last year, the Giants were swept in the first round of playoffs. They finished the 2022-23 season with 30 wins and 26 losses.

Ellison is proud of how aggressive the Giants fought on Saturday to nearly tie, and potentially win, the game. He said Sunday’s defeat was because of costly errors. The team is short, but Ellison hopes to add more players by July. The current roster is a mix of veterans from last year’s season and rookies.

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“From what I’m seeing around the league, there’s a lot of talent that we’re going to need to be prepared to meet every challenge we face,” said Ellison on Monday. “Last year we pitched really well although our offense was spotty. This year, we’re going to put the ball in play a little more and play faster.”

Ellison is also thrilled with the public turnout. More than 3,500 people came out for the entire first weekend, which he says was 20 per cent of last season’s total attendance.

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Giant natural gas-fuelled steam generators at the Cenovus SAGD oilsands facility near Conklin, Alta., 120 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, Alta. on August 28, 2013. Ryan Jackson/Postmedia Network Photo by Ryan Jackson /Edmonton Journal

Ottawa tries to muzzle oil and gas companies with huge fines for praising their climate efforts

Columnist Don Braid reports oil and gas companies publicizing their environmental actions will have to prove the truth of every word they say, measured against undefined “internationally recognized methodology.”

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Oil and gas companies will face scrutiny and penalties unique in the business and political worlds. The Alberta government is already considering counteraction.

The fine for a first “offence” could be up to $10 million, or three times the benefit gained from the “deception.” A second conviction would raise the fine to $15 million.

“These provisions probably violate the constitutional right to free speech and association under the Charter of Rights. But that would take years to establish in court,” argues Braid.

“Meanwhile, companies will have to decide whether they will keep saying positive things about their climate change efforts, or simply fall silent,” he writes. “Silence is exactly what the drafters of these draconian measures want.”

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Extreme athlete Andre Belibi breaks the Guinness World Record title for full body contact with ice with a time of 4 hours and 5 minutes. Bulibi used the record to raise money for Autism Canada at the opening of the 60th annual Servus Calgary Marathon in Calgary on May 24. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
  • No charges for disgraced cops: Two Lethbridge cops won’t face criminal charges for spying on NDP MLA Shannon Phillips. Alberta’s Crown services declined to charge the cops, who were demoted temporarily but not fired. Alberta’s police watchdog says there are reasonable grounds to believe a crime happened. Phillips was Alberta’s environment minister at the time, and the cops were angry plans for a new park could impact their love for all-terrain vehicles. Phillips was subjected to improper police database searches, and targeted for traffic stops.
  • Space cowboys: A “made-in-Alberta” rocket may reach outer space in 2026. Vladimir Mravcek, head of Atlantis Research Labs, plans to unveil the goal at a major technology conference, Inventures, today in Calgary. The company manufacturers equipment in Medicine Hat and early models were tested this spring at CFB Suffield. This would not be a Canadian-first, but Mravcek hopes firing a domestic rocket into space will kickstart Canada’s commercial space sector.
  • No pigs on the wing: Two provincial programs targeting Alberta’s wild pigs didn’t kill a single hog. A trapping program from Alberta Pork (yes, that’s what it’s called) has had some successes, though. Wild pigs are considered the most destructive invasive mammals on Earth. They are known for trashing crops, harming livestock and wildlife, spreading disease, damaging river banks, and even attacking humans and invading urban areas.
  • Notley’s last stand: Rachel Notley gave her final press conference as NDP Leader. Her last action as leader was tabling the Eastern Slopes Protection Act, a private member’s bill she first tabled in 2021 that proposes banning coal mining and exploration along the Rocky Mountains. A new party leader will be announced after a membership vote concludes on June 22. Notley is the longest-serving MLA currently in the legislature.
  • Highway to the walking zone: The town of Banff’s downtown pedestrian zone will be settled by a plebiscite in August. The pedestrian zone closes Banff Avenue to cars. It began during the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued ever since. But a former town councillor collected 1,000 signatures from locals opposed to the annual no-car zone. They argue it increases traffic on side streets and impedes shopping.
  • Orgy of evidence: A Calgary man can continue hosting orgies in his home, but he cannot formalize them or charge people to join. A Calgary judge ruled the Charter rights of Matthew Mills were not violated when police ordered his sex club, which he called Club Ménage and ran out of his home, to close in 2019. The judge found that the bylaw doesn’t prohibit Mills from hosting orgies behind closed doors. Mills’ lawyer says his client plans to keep hosting orgies.
  • Read up on the politics and culture of Alberta  with Postmedia’s subscriber-exclusive newsletter, What’s up with Alberta? Curated by the National Post’s Tyler Dawson every Tuesday and Thursday.

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