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Council debates next steps post-pandemic, floods

Last Updated Jun 24, 2020 at 12:46 am MST

PHOTO. RMWB Council chambers from the interim location at the Syncrude Athletic Park Clubhouse on Jan. 28, 2020. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood.

The penultimate scheduled meeting of RMWB Council began at 4 p.m. on June 23.

Mayor and Councillors would hear presentations on flood mitigation and the final report from the region’s Business Recovery Task Force.

READ MORE: Business Recovery Task Force to present final report

The 171-member Task Force has four sub-committees: Business and Professional Services, Industry and Supply Chain, Real Estate and Development, and Tourism and Hospitality.

Chair Kevin Weidlich said five key themes emerged from all four sectors.

“Strengthening the business community, maintaining a culture of safety, establishing a business friendly environment, making a stronger regional voice, and long-term competitiveness.”

Through its findings, the Task Force concluded business recovery must occur in three phases: Immediate Response, Recovery, and Resiliency.

In its first meeting after the flood, the group decided to broaden its scope.

Weidlich said the Task Force supports both Downtown Revitalization Incentives Program Policy.

It also supports a five-year Municipal Tax Exemption Program for New Commercial Development in the downtown area.

The group will present its plan at the next RMWB Council meeting on July 14, 2020.

A copy of the Task Force’s final report is available on the Choose Wood Buffalo website.

Flood Mitigation Program

Deputy CAO Matthew Hough provided an update on its accelerated flood mitigation plan.

He said the construction of berms and retaining walls continues in various sections of downtown Fort McMurray.

The RMWB also scheduled large projects to start in 2021 near the Lower Townsite.

READ MORE: Flood Mitigation Program update expected Tuesday

Since 1835, all but one of the 17 floods that impacted the Lower Townsite, Waterways, Ptarmigan Court, and Draper resulted from ice jams.

“The 2020 Flood is prompting us to revisit how we enhance the resilience of our community and we need to do that by reducing our vulnerability to flooding.”

He said the Municipality recognizes the inherent risk of building on a flood plain.

While it cannot make guarantees, Hough said he hopes the construction of the berm would withstand a future ‘one-in-100 year’ flood event.

To date, the RMWB spent $150-million on flood mitigation.

“We need to revisit our approach to building and our assumption that the one-in-100 year flood design standard is adequate.”

He explained the design standard is cumulative, so the one per cent likelihood of the flood event will increase over time, but not linearly.

Hough said the RMWB will look at Taiga Nova, Downtown Fort McMurray, Ptarmigan Court, Waterways, and Draper in its flood recovery.

Some options to consider for redevelopment are to leave as is, redevelop with some regulations, or implement partial or full buyouts of properties.

“We know that every community is different; we’re taking cost, risk, and community support into consideration, and solutions are not going to be [one-size fits all].”

He said the administration plans to discuss with community members possible next steps over the summer.

Such community engagements may include an online survey and possibly virtual townhalls.

The administration will table costs and risks to Mayor and Councillors in the July 14 meeting.

More information on flood recovery is available on the Municipality’s website.

Additional notes

RMWB Council Jeff Peddle provided an amendment on his original motion on Capital Projects.

Peddle said the amendment also suggests both Downtown Revitalization and Waterfront advisory committees take flood mitigation and risk into account in its work.

Council voted 9-2 in favour of the motion.

RMWB Council unanimously approved the Downtown Revitalization Incentives Program Policy.

It also allocated five million dollars from the Emerging Issues Reserve to fund the policy.

Mayor and Councillors also approved the motion calling for a municipal tax exemption program for new commercial development in downtown Fort McMurray.

The exemption will cover a period of five years.

Finally, RMWB Council approved a motion on anti-racism and inclusivity.

Introduced by Councillor Krista Balsom, the motion would enhance work between the administration and the Regional Advisory Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, and Equality (RACIDE).

It would also seek to build a framework supporting anti-racism and equality initiatives.

Councillor Phil Meagher put forward an amendment to strike the word ‘mandatory’ from the wording of the motion.

Councillors worried municipal staff should want to participate in cultural sensitivity training, for example.

RMWB Council voted 7-4 to remove the word, and then voted unanimously in favour of the amended motion.

A report will return to RMWB Council at a later date.