Wednesday, March 8, 2006

WARNING! Rant Ahead:

You know, i'm getting very tired of the lack of planning and vision from some people in this community.

Let me backtrack and explain, for those readers from out of town...

MacDonald Island is a recreation complex situated at the delta of the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers in downtown Fort McMurray. Right now, the complex houses an 18-hole golf course, curling rink, a small arena, a small gym, a banquet facility, baseball diamonds and a soccer field. Its a decent facility for a city of 30 or 40 thousand residents, but its absolutely inadequate when servicing a population of 70000+.

Because of this, MacDonald Island will be undergoing a redevelopment. In addition to its current facilities, it will expand and add a hockey ice surface, 2 field houses, a swimming pool and waterslide park, a suspended running track, and other various recreation/athletic facilities. In addition to this, it will be the new home of the Fort McMurray Public Library. All told, the new MacDonald Island will be the largest facility of its kind in Alberta... and deservedly so, if you ask me.

So where's the problem, you ask?

Well as i'm sure most people in Canada now know, housing in Fort McMurray is nowhere to be found. This is somewhat problematic for a large project such as this, which will require some 250 workers to build the facility. Now this problem is often dealt with by the large oilsands companies by providing project accomodation or "camp" to house workers. While not an ideal situation in terms of living arrangements, it fills a gap that would otherwise not see jobs filled/facilities built at all.

To combat the lack of local skilled workers to build the facility, those in charge of construction of the new MacDonald Island are suggesting a 250-person camp be set up in a large vacant area on MacDonald Island. In addition to providing cheap, conveniently-located accomodation for the men and women who are working on our new facility, it will save some $8 million in costs compared to having to house these people in apartments or hotels (of which there are precious few, certainly not enough for 250 people) or having to transport them into town from camps located closer to oilsands plants, thus adding to our already over-congested highway. As an added bonus, catering for this camp could be provided by the facilities at MacDonald Island, which would recapture some of the costs of construction.

Sounds like a simple plan, right?


There are two sides in this story: The Municipality, and a conglomeration of SOME long-term residents who are less than enthused about change... for the sake of this post, we'll call them Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard).

Now both sides are, in some ways, at fault.

When this idea first came along, it should have been clear to the bureaucrats and politicians at the Municipality that the stereotype of having a camp within city limits would not be attractive, given society's sensationalist tendencies vis a vis initial reactions. Instead of getting ahead of the curve and explaining to people what this would really entail, along with the economic and social benefits of getting this facility built, the Municipality seemingly did nothing. This has allowed the Nimbys to grab a hold of the news cycle and beat the Municipality with it like some kind of rented mule. As such, what should have been a common sense proposal has turned into a PR nightmare.

On the flip side of the coin, we see the Nimbys spouting off the usual lines. They say that they don't want a camp in town because of the social impacts. They say that the construction company and the Municipality should make this place attractive enough so that workers want to bring their families here to live, rather than just one income earner living in camp. Well that's a very noble argument, and certainly one I could side with if affordable housing were an immediate option.

However in reality, affordable housing ISN'T an immediate option. In order to build more houses, you need construction workers. Without any houses for the construction workers to live in, they need to be put in camp while they build homes for our community. Same thing goes for the MacDonald Island redevelopment. If we want to see more infrastructure, be it social or otherwise, built in this community, we are going to have to live with the fact that the people who build said infrastructure are going to need a place to live while doing so.

The longer that Council waits on this, the higher the cost of the project goes. Its right now sitting at $106 million, and goes up every month that startup is delayed. At some point, our already cash-strapped Municipality is going to have to "fish or cut bait" with respect to the redevelopment of MacDonald Island.

The Nimbys are always the first to complain about Quality of Life issues in Fort McMurray. Its ironic and unfortunate that their latest round of complaining could end up costing us the most important Quality of Life advancement in a generation.


  1. Dude - why haven't you joined Alberta Blogs yet?

  2. Didn't even know such a thing existed... I have sent an email to rectify the situation.