First they were told June 4. Then September. Now, residents of Beacon Hill, Abasand, and Waterways aren’t sure if they’ll be able to go home at all.
The three most damaged neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray are under the microscope right now as provincial officials examine the toxicity of the ash and soil to determine whether a return is possible. At a press conference last week, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karen Grimsrud said it was “premature” to make a decision on whether the communities could be rebuilt.
Mayor Melissa Blake told Fort McMurray Matters that the conversation needs to be had.
“The first and foremost concern will be about safety,” she said. “We need to understand whether it’s even remotely possible that people could live a healthy, non-toxic life (in these communities).”
Heavy metals including arsenic have been found in the ash, along with carcinogenic dioxins and polyaromatic hydrocarbons that are dangerous to public health. A tacifier spray has been applied to the areas to prevent the ash from spreading by air. But even if that ash can be cleaned up, there are other concerns.
Waterways, for example, lies on a floodplain. After the High River floods in 2013, the province banned development in floodplains but gave the neighbourhood an exception given it was a pre-existing community. With 90% of structures gone in the area, rebuilding may be reconsidered by the government.
There are also some concerns that Abasand and Beacon Hill may have some unstable slopes due to the burning of trees on the hills.
Blake said no decision has been made on the rebuilding or condemning, and the RMWB will have to sit down with the people, province, and insurance industry to decide on a way forward.
“We do know there are important players in this,” she said. “We’ve got to nail down some of those engagements with people, and it’s hard to do as we’re just ebbing into the community.”
For now, Blake says they’re focusing on allowing residents to return to their properties to retrieve personal items with the help of Team Rubicon.