Fort McMurray land leases: Homes vs Bitumen

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Houses in Fort McMurrary are in such demand they sell at prices a quarter-of-a-million-dollars more than either Edmonton or Calgary. But it is what new houses could be sitting on that really has Alberta's bitumen capital in a bind. A massive tract of land set aside for urban housing development is the same land on which oilsands companies hold mineral rights leases. And the Alberta government has to decide who gets priority.



Panel: Michael Evans / Columba Yeung

When you think of cities with sky-high housing prices, you probably think of Vancouver or Toronto or Calgary. You probably don't think of Fort McMurray. But these days, the prices there are comparable to Vancouver ... only without the ocean views.

Aamer Ikram moved to Fort McMurray a year ago to take a job with Suncor. And now, he is sealing the deal on a house for himself, his wife and their two children. It's half of a duplex ... a three-bedroom unit with a basement that could be turned into a rental suite. The price tag? $647,000. We aired a clip of him speaking to real estate agent, Sarah Baron.

Fort McMurray's population is booming. Right now, there are as many as 85,000 workers living in camp facilities. RV camps are common. It sounds like a dream scenario for home builders. The trouble is, there's no land to build on. Fort McMurray is surrounded by crown land owned by the province of Alberta.

Just before he stepped down two years ago, then Premier Ed Stelmach announced the province was setting aside 40,000 hectares of surrounding land for housing development. But the rights to extract bitumen from much of that land have already been leased to private companies. Those rights are worth millions if not billions of dollars.

The oil companies won't give them up easily. And despite the need for housing, some in Fort McMurray don't want to give up the revenue they'd get from it either. So now, Premier Alison Redford faces the difficult task of balancing the need for housing for workers ... with the thing that is giving them all jobs in the first place.

Michael Evans is the Executive Director of Stakeholder Relations Department for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which encompasses Fort McMurray.
He was in Edmonton.

And Columba Yeung is the Chair and CEO of Value Creation Group, an oil sands company that holds mineral rights leases for about 60 per cent of the land that is being tagged for urban development in Fort McMurray. He was in Calgary.

Alberta's Energy Minister, Ken Hughes

Ken Hughes is Alberta's Energy Minister. His department is overseeing the process of creating what's known as an Urban Development Sub-Region for Fort McMurray. Ken Hughes was in Calgary.

This segment was produced by Edmonton Network Producer, Gillian Rutherford.

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Checking-In: Listener Response

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