Fort McMurray and oilsands could face gravel 'crisis,' trade group says

Fort McMurray is on the verge of a gravel crisis that could affect the pace of the wildfire rebuilds and construction within the oilsands region, according to a group representing producers.

Gravel industry group estimates closure of Fort McMurray pit will increase construction costs by 30 per cent

Fort McMurray is on the edge of a gravel crisis according the Fort McMurray Aggregate Users Group. (CBC)

Fort McMurray faces a gravel crisis that could affect the pace of the wildfire rebuilds and construction within the oilsands region, according to an industry group. 

Though often ignored, gravel is a critical commodity needed for Highway 63 expansion, for supplying concrete to oilsands leases and for rebuilding more than 2,500 homes destroyed in the Fort McMurray wildfire.

That was the message the chairman of the Fort McMurray Aggregate Users Group had for municipal council on Tuesday night.

"This crisis is going to have a negative affect on all infrastructure development in, and north of, Fort McMurray," said Dan Fouts. "A crisis which could have been avoided."

Any delay transitioning to a new mine could impact building costs by 30 per cent, said Fouts. The price uncertainty has led to some contractors considering closing up shop, he said.

The public gravel pit at Susan Lake, 85 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, has been depleted and is scheduled to close in April.

Mikisew North has been awarded the contract to manage the new gravel source at the Coffey Lake pit, 105 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The Fort McMurray Aggregate Users Group fears the new pit won't be ready by the time the old one closes.

'False and defamatory' statements

In a letter to Environment Minister Shannon Phillips in February, the group said it is concerned there is no "plan B" should the replacement pit not be ready. The group said it received no response to the letter or to other repeated appeals for information from Phillips.

Press secretary for the minister, Matt Dykstra, did not reply to a series of questions CBC asked by email. But Dykstra did say the environment and parks ministry is aware of the concerns and is reviewing Mikisew North's plan after receiving additional information from the company.

Mikisew North declined to do an interview with CBC. But in an email statement the company's marketing manager, Karli Stewart, said it did call on the Fort McMurray Aggregate Users Group to retract the "false and defamatory" statements made in its letter to the minister.

The First Nations owned company said it has followed all provincial rules governing the development of mines.

The province is stalling business

Coun. Jeff Peddle said he was disappointed to hear about the delays. He and other councillors unanimously supported the Fort McMurray Aggregate Users Group's request for a letter of support to be sent to Phillips.

Fort McMurray region Don Scott. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"For me, it is frustrating because the first thing (government) can't do is stall business," Peddle said. "And this is stalling business."

Mayor Don Scott said he and his council will follow up with the environment minister.

"This is critical for the region and we are going to be raising this issue," Scott said. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook and Twitter, email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca