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First step being done by council for “East Clearwater Highway”

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
First step being done by council for "East Clearwater Highway"

Residents pack the council chambers on Oct 25, 2016. Resident Scott Garner (Right) spoke to council on "East Clearwater Highway" // Jaryn Vecchio - Harvard Broadcasting

Council is supporting the first step of constructing a second highway to be parallel with Highway 63.

Last Wednesday, the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee unanimously approved a proposal to build the highway, which would run out to Anzac.

The first step is $5 million being set in the 2017 budget for the pre-design of the highway while looking to solicit the Government of Alberta for funding to support the pre-design. The total cost of the project is being estimated at $1.5 billion.

The “East Clearwater Highway” would give residents another route out of the municipality if another emergency were to happen. It would also prevent dangerous goods from being hauled through the city.

“This is an opportunity to step up and say people come first and really mean it and it’s also an opportunity for our Prime Minister to say Fort McMurray does care and the people care and if that message is delivered the people here will respond positively,” said resident Scott Garner.

Garner was among many residents who spoke to council, telling their evacuation stories and just how this second highway would have and benefit possible future disasters.

“The day of the fire I was one of those working North of the city and stayed back to assist in the evacuation process and if we we’re to do it again we would step up and do the exact same thing we did,” said Garner.

Among others who spoke at council was Melissa Gallant who shared her story of being separated from her two kids and mother and not knowing if they would survive due to the gridlock through both exits of the city.

“I told my mom to drive through the fire, through the median and head North, she was going to perish with my precious cargo in the back seat if she did nothing.”

She then waited exactly 103 minutes at the foot of their house when to her relief they got home going through all the traffic. After heading north, they decided to head back south after the highway re-opened.

“One way in and one way out, I needed to head back into the danger to save my family.”

Her and her family were able to make it south but along the way she lost her trust for her and her families safety. In the end of her presentation she pleaded to the Federal and Provincial governments to help build a second highway.

After delegations council had their chance to express their views on the matter. All positive except for Councillor Tyran Ault wondering if they’re missing a bigger picture.

“A new highway would be great but if no one can get out of Abasand, Beacon Hill, Wood Buffalo to access that new highway then what’s the point in bringing it.”

Though it sounds negative he doesn’t want it to be lost that he does support the highway, in his words “I would be stupid not to.”

“Having a secondary highway is very important for the community,” he said. “It’s a matter of being able to get to that secondary highway that I really think we need to think about.”

Though he is showing his support, Ault believes the process is being rushed due to tight timelines being put on the municipality by the higher governments.

Mayor Melissa Blake will also be writing to the GOA to show support of the FireSmart plan, working collaboratively to find the best means to help the rural hamlets and look for funding and support between the GOA and municipality for training and permanent staffing of a WUI Fire Crew like that in the Lesser Slave Lake region.

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