Flood-prone Fort McMurray community still can't rebuild

Waterways residents are frustrated about the pace of the rebuild in their area despite municipal council lifting restrictions in their community a month ago.

Waterways residents feel they're 'forgotten' by the Wood Buffalo municipality

May's wildfire levelled over 300 homes in the subdivision of Waterways in Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

Some Fort McMurray residents are growing frustrated with the slow pace of rebuilding their community after last May's devastating wildfire.

Residents who live in the flood-prone area in Waterways are still waiting to sign waivers that say they understand the risk of rebuilding in a flood zone, but the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has given them no indication on when those letters will arrive. Owners have been waiting for more than a month to sign them.

"It's like they forgot about Waterways," resident Angela Hewat said. "They don't seem to want to help."

May's wildfire destroyed almost all the homes and businesses in the Fort McMurray subdivision. Since it sits on a floodplain, rebuilding the homes in Waterways required special permission from the provincial government, which will soon pass legislation preventing any community construction in zones prone to flooding.

Crews begin to work on the burned out remains of the Waterways neighbourhood of Fort McMurray after wildfire forced the evacuation of the city. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

In October, the Alberta government guaranteed the municipality it will provide disaster recovery funding in case of a future flood.

But before rebuilding, the municipality said residents must sign legal documents that indicate owners understand the risks of building on a floodplain. Those documents must be transferred with the property titles, the municipality said. It's in the process of drafting those documents.

Update ASAP

In an email, a municipal spokesperson acknowledged the amount of time it's taking and said it will have a better update for residents by next week.

"There are conversations taking place between various municipal departments, including legal and legislative services and planning & development, on the topic of Waterways," the email said.

"With numerous stakeholders involved, we are doing our due diligence to ensure these stakeholders are engaged in the process, and look forward to providing the resilient residents of Waterways with an update as soon as possible."

Take a drive with CBC reporter David Thurton as he tours Waterways. May’s wildfire destroyed over 300 homes in this Fort McMurray community. 0:38

Those conversations are too late for Angela Hewat. She's already sold her mobile home in Waterways because she's under-insured and was unsure about her community's future.

"No. I'm done. It's just too much," she said. "I wasn't sleeping. I felt like my anxiety was going through the roof."

Although Waterways resident Tracy Holland doesn't live in the community's flood zone and can rebuild, she's uneasy about breaking ground. She worries that rebuilding in a flood zone will devalue her property. 

"So then we look at this and we go, 'Do we really want to put $500,000 into a new home in a location that has no plans?'" she said.

Holland said she'll make up her mind to rebuild when the municipality sorts out the confusion around the waivers and there's a clearer idea of what will be done with homes that won't be reconstructed in the flood zone.

She'll remain in Athabasca until then.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and via email.