Community leaders in Fort McMurray say the city can't handle Suncor's proposed $10-billion expansion of its oilsands operation, because its infrastructure is already stretched to the limit.
Suncor has filed an application to build a third upgrader, and later a pipeline to feed in bitumen from the mining operation. The project, which will take likely take two years to go through the approval process, would create about 4,000 construction jobs initially.
But politicians and business leaders in Fort McMurray say the city is already at capacity and needs new hospitals, roads, sewers and schools. The average house price in town is about $340,000, and there are essentially no vacancies in the city.
"Until we get our infrastructure in place, we are really not set up to handle as many people as are expected," said Jack Bonville, who owns a construction company and is vice-president of the Fort McMurray and District Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Melissa Blake says the city is already too big for the existing services, and won't be able to function with more people.
She wants the province to help out, given that the price tag on a new sewer system alone is $94 million.
"Without [provincial help], we just can't put any more development in our community," Blake said. "So that is the very harsh reality of the circumstances we are facing."
While a spokesman for Alberta Infrastructure said Fort McMurray will be treated like any other municipality in the province, Energy Minister Greg Melchin said oilsands development and the royalties it puts into the provincial economy are important enough that the city should be given special treatment.
"I would say Fort McMurray has a special case," Melchin said, citing a number of major projects proposed for the area. "So much is happening up there.
"For us to be able to realize the royalties and the revenue and all of that from Alberta's perspective maximizing the value, we've got to see that there's some basic infrastructure in place to accommodate it."