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Fort McMurray asking province to repay $50M debt in land to help with flood mitigation

The mayor of Wood Buffalo is calling on the provincial government to repay a multi-million dollar debt in much-needed parcels of land to help the municipality deal with its flood mitigation plans. 

'This is a major hold up,' says mayor

An aerial photo of Fort McMurray taken April 28 shows neighbourhoods overwhelmed by floodwaters. (McMurray Aviation)

The mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is calling on the provincial government to repay a multi-million dollar debt in much-needed parcels of land to help the municipality deal with its flood mitigation plans. 

In 2014, the Department of Infrastructure agreed to the municipality completing infrastructure improvements along Highway 63 and Saprae Creek Trail, work that cost $50.4 million.

In return the province said it would pay the municipality with proceeds from selling land in Parsons Creek and Saline Creek. 

That land was never sold.

Mayor Don Scott said that land should be transferred to the municipality in lieu of money. 

"We have been having these discussions for literally years now," Scott said.

"We made it very clear after the flood that we really wanted this accelerated." 

He said the municipality needs the land to offer land swaps to people living in flood zones. 

Fort McMurray flooded in April and the municipality has since been revamping its flood mitigation plan. 

Part of that plan includes exploring land swaps for neighbourhoods like Ptarmigan Court. 

But there's a problem.

"We do not have enough land to engage in land swap discussions," Scott said. "This is a major hold up."

Scott said he doesn't know how many residents would even want a land swap, but he wants it to be an option. 

"The province is not coming to the table to support this community in the way that it should," he said. 

Scott said the region has supported Alberta and Canada for years, and now he would like to see some support for Fort McMurray. 

"It's completely unfair to this region," he said, adding that he saw no clear reason why the municipality hasn't been able to get the land or the money. 

"We've been waiting forever, it feels like."

Coun. Krista Balsom says she has spoken with many residents in the region, and some are interested in looking into a land swap. 

A prominent message repeatedly heard was the desire to get quick answers from council about flood mitigation, she said. 

"People just want a decision so they can decide what they're going to do for their families, for their futures." 

Balsom said she would like to see two commitments from the provincial government: land for land swaps and funding to assist with flood mitigation. 

Hadyn Place, press secretary for infrastructure minister Prasad Panda, said in an email, the government "continues to have productive meetings with the RMWB towards finding a solution that best serves the needs of the community."

Place added that the municipality has held up its end of the agreement.

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