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Councillors demand local contractor work for fire damage cleanup

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Councillors demand local contractor work for fire damage cleanup

Councillor Allan Vinni asks a question of IBC VP Dale McGowan on June 21, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel - Harvard Broadcasting

Homeowners aren’t being properly informed of their rights when it comes to hiring for the cleanup of their property.

That was the understanding of council Tuesday night as they heard from local contractors who feel like they’re being frozen out of work by insurance companies.

Administration presented a report to council regarding the debris removal process, noting that residents have three options when it comes to cleaning up their property. They can agree to the use of insurance-recommended contractors that will be selected through SPECS Ltd., a project management group out of Langley B.C., they can hire a local contractor to do the work, or they can clean up the property themselves.

SPECS was presented as the ideal option, with admin arguing that there would be cost-savings by having the project manager handle an over-arching contract to clear debris from a majority of damaged lots.

Administration said that with local contractors being hired individually by homeowners, economies of scale wouldn’t be realized. raising the cost for homeowners.

Personal cleanup could also end up being more expensive, they argued. Landfill fees for not properly sorting rubble could eat in to a homeowner’s budget for their rebuild.

However, some councillors believed that administration was telling an incomplete story.

“I was surprised to see no cons listed alongside the SPECS option,” Said Councillor Phil Meagher. “The con is up.”

Meagher and others argued that local contractors could do the job just as well without SPECS, as “moving dirt is what we do here.”

There have been concerns raised from contractors that SPECS, who is tendering the bid for the cleanup contract, isn’t considering local businesses for the project. The company says that of the 12 bids they have received so far, 9 have been from local firms.

But that didn’t stop some, like Councillor Allan Vinni, from calling foul. He posited that when council agreed in principle to the possibility of a single cleanup contract in May, they did so with the promise that local contractors would be used.

“I knew this was going to happen,” he said of contractors feeling frozen out. “I knew this was going to be a big lie.”

Local residents and contractors told council during delegations that McMurrayites with damaged homes are being “funneled” towards signing onto the SPECS option for cleanup, despite having a full right to hire a local contractor of their own choosing. Insurance Bureau of Canada Executive Vice President Dale McGowan said his organization would work on ensuring that insurance companies were informing clients of those rights.

But Vinni is taking matters into his own hands.

“We don’t have to tell people they have all kinds of options,” he told his fellow councillors. “We’re going to tell people they should hire their own damn contractor. That’s what I’m going to do anyway.”

Administration confirmed that permits could be issued for debris cleanup immediately to local contractors who are hired by property owners. They are still working on a fee structure for multiple adjacent lots being done at the same time, as they’ve never had to handle such a request before.

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