The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Recovery Task Force
On June 21, 2016, Mayor Melissa Blake and the council members in Fort McMurray voted to create a Recovery Task Force committee. While the task force was created as a direct result of the fires that caused so much damage to our city in May, it was actually the fires in Slave Lake of 2011 that gave the foundation for many things that are being done in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to help local residents.
In 2011 fire ravaged the community of Slave Lake, ironically, it also occurred in May. Over 750 residents were left homeless when over one third of the community was consumed by the fire. About 7,000 residents were evacuated, and at the time it was considered the largest mass evacuation in Alberta history. Some huge infrastructure, including the City Hall in Slave Lake were also destroyed, leaving a huge job for the community to tackle after the smoke had cleared. Because of the enormity of the devastation there was little for the mayor and council to use as reference post-fire in Slave Lake. But out of that fire, everything was well documented, and from that came the Lessons Learned Document in November of 2012, a nearly 200 page report on what was done well during the wildfire in Slave Lake, and what could have been improved. Even before residents thought of returning home to Fort McMurray, Mayor, council and administration were looking at this document so that we would not make mistakes that would turn into huge regrets for years to come. Of course, here in town, we saw and felt even more long term effects, as about 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed, and the estimated cost for the rebuild by insurance companies sits at about $3.4-billion. It has already been said that the rebuild could take as little as 2, or as long as 5 years.
There were many things in the report that Fort McMurray could use right away as officials tried to help residents. Slave Lake had found that a phased re-entry worked best, and we also adopted that approach when it was time to return home. But one other recommendation was the establishment of a Recovery Task Force or committee that would help on all the levels needed. In the report they looked at who should be at the table for the rebuilding of a community, if just doing a rebuild was enough to restore the community to “normal” was enough after facing such a huge disaster and it even looked at how long local government should be in “recovery mode” before returning to regular operations.
It was from all of this that it was decided that the task force was needed, and was passed that night in June, and it will remain in place until December 31, 2017 unless it is decided by council that it is no longer needed, or extended if deemed necessary. The bylaw states that the committee will “provide policy and governance oversight to a new business unit of the Municipality dedicated to recovery and rebuilding of the community in the aftermath of the wildfires of May 2016”.
The bylaw went on to define the representation on the committee, with one councillor from the rural area, two councillors from Ward 1, up to 6 members of the general public, and the Mayor would also be an ex officio member, who can attend any of the meetings. This committee has now been formed(see sidebar for the committee members), and they brought forward the recommendation recently that Dana Woodworth be appointed as the interim leader, which council approved. Woodworth brings a wealth of experience to the position, as he led the provincial response in the 2011 Slave Lake fire, and also worked on the response after the floods of 2013 in southern Alberta. During his three to four month term, he hopes to get the whole team up and running, which will mean eventually about 70-80 people working all aspects of recovery in Fort McMurray.
Chair of the committee is Jeanette Bancarz and we recently had the opportunity to sit down along with Russell Baker, who is a press secretary in Communications & Stakeholder Relations with the municipality to chat about the mandate of the committee, and what they hope to accomplish in the coming months.
Bancarz grew up on a rural farm, and was raised to “pitch in” and be neighbourly where ever she was needed. When she had the opportunity to come to Fort McMurray and be further involved with the community through her job at ATB Financial, she jumped at the opportunity. After the fire, when she heard about the Recovery Committee, it felt natural to Bancarz to apply to try to help the community that she had grown to love.
“I also thought it was important that there was a social profit perspective on the recovery committee, as they are going to be a huge part of moving forward and they will be a critical part of the recovery of the community. They will be part of the healing they we need to do,” said Bancarz.
Bancarz went on to add that the committee is very diverse, and represents a wonderful cross section of our community, which was important so that everyone that was affected by the wildfires are represented on the committee.
“Through the learnings that came out of the fire at Slave Lake, one quote that was given by the mayor there was that they were having to make decisions in six minutes after the fire that would have usually taken six months, and with the vibrancy and sense of urgency that exists in our community even at the best of times, I think council here found it prudent to have a separate committee to oversee and help manage the recovery process. Everyone was touched by the fire in one way or another, but we do have a distinct separation of required support that is needed by some of our residents. Those most affected by the fire require a higher level, and more timely response rate to serve their needs. And then we have another section, a large section of our community that hasn’t been as severely impacted, that have a different set of needs, and the committee recognizes all of this and will try to balance it all as we move forward,” said Bancarz.
Businesses and residential buildings are still being built in Fort McMurray, outside of what was affected by the fire, and the municipality will have to strike a balance to serve all the residents of the region. It is the hope that with this committee all those residents will be aided, and in fact the committee will even be working with the social profits to help them rebuild, but they will also be working with agencies like Alberta Health Services to make sure that the mental health of the residents is also being looked after.
Bancarz said advocacy for the residents of town is a huge part of the committee work, whether it be with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, council, or stakeholders in the community. To make sure that they are hearing all the issues that residents are facing, the committee and municipality are doing several things. There is a whole page set up separately under the municipality page at www.rmwb.ca that deals with the specific problems that they have been hearing about on a consistent basis, there residents can hear the Town Hall recordings, access resources about agencies available to help and find out the hours of operations for other resources. On top of that, residents are encouraged to call the Pulse Line, which operates 24 hours a day for all residents in the municipality. The number is 780-743-7000 and through that line residents can ask whatever questions they have, and will be directed to the proper resources.
To provide further aid, the committee will be starting engagement sessions, which were always in the works. These sessions will also host experts from different parts of the community, including people from Red Cross, industry, and the insurance companies. Dates and information about these sessions will also be posted on the municipal website.
“Information will be brought forward by the committee to residents in a timely fashion so they are not waiting and becoming frustrating by the whole process of recovery,” added Bancarz.
“One of the biggest decisions that will have to be made is about Waterways, and it is complex and we are not going to leave one stone unturned in our research about what is best for that area of town. We will do our due diligence and present as best we can to council so that they are making the best, informed decision on that issue, but also on all the issues. On the positive side, the move to have a recovery committee is a sound judgement on the behalf of council. That team is taking ownership for the recovery, and so things should be starting to happen faster for residents. And Fort McMurray is a community of “can do” and people and residents here will do what they need to do to recover, whether is taking financial aid from the Red Cross, asking for help, or taking on the task themselves. I have the greatest confidence that residents will know that the committee is here for them, but also that there are many things that they can do to help as well,” said Bancarz.
Russell Baker wanted to stress that the Pulse Line operations have been ramped up, and when they receive information, they will get it to the person that can provide answers for the residents, and that they will respond to every inquiry that comes through that line.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work that has been done on that line, and every single call is tracked so that the loop is closed and help is provided as best as can be,” said Baker.
Bancarz said that the committee has some very strong individuals who will be working very hard in the months to come for Fort McMurray, individuals who are strongly invested in the community already, and who have the best interests of Fort McMurray in mind. With the engagement at such a high level, every resident should really feel part of the whole process, and hopefully we will work towards rebuilding in record time.
THE RECOVERY TASK FORCE COMMITTEE
Germain is one of the councillors who have taken on the role of being on the Recovery Committee, besides his duties on council. Germain has now been serving the residents of McMurray since 1998, and was the youngest councillor ever elected when he won his seat in 1998 at 26 years of age. Germain is a vice principal at Holy Trinity High School, and he serves on the Audit and Oversight committees. He believes that if you provide great opportunities to families they will want to stay and contribute to the community. “Hopefully their children will grow up in Fort McMurray and choose to stay. The unique challenge we have is in helping those who move here to become more attached to the community and become proud to call Fort McMurray home. After all, calling a city ‘home’ means more than just having it as a return address.” Germain is married to a teacher, his wife, Gerarda, are the parents of three: Anya and twins Drew and Ellie. Keith McGrath
McGrath moved from Newfoundland over 30 years ago and has enjoyed working in the oilsands all those years. He also has been privileged to work with many great community leaders volunteering, and working on boards and committees that include the Community Health Council, Fort McMurray Housing Authority, the Regional Roads Committee, MacDonald Island Park, McMurray Newfoundlanders Club, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, and was the President of the Friends of Miskanaw Golf Club. Keith has been on the Board of Directors of the Alberta Catholic School Trustee Association Finance Committee and is currently in his fourth term as a Board Member with the Fort McMurray Catholic School District.
McGrath is passionate about building a community where no one gets left behind. Keith has received the 2012 JD Hole Humanitarian Award, the 2012 St. Thomas Service Award and, in 2013, was honoured with one of 38 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medals distributed by the Canadian Construction Association in recognition of achievements that have helped to build the Canada of today and the future. He also serves on the Land Planning and Transportation Committee, as well as the Oversight committee and the Regional Recreation Corp board.
Keith has been married to Teresa for 20 years, and would say that his main passion will always be his family and community. Allan Vinni
After arriving in Fort McMurray late 2001, Allan Vinni was called to the Alberta bar, opened his own law office a year later, and hasn’t looked back since. In his legal career, he particularly enjoys the opportunity of meeting so many of the people who are newly arrived in the Municipality and are boldly proceeding to buy a home here and join this wonderful community.
Allan is proud to represent the residents of Ward 3 and works to preserve and enhance the country residential lifestyle that Ward 3 embraces. He has served as Chair on the Selection committee and the Vice-Chair of the Land, Planning and Development committee.
Allan’s partner, Tammie, is a psychologist in private practice at Psychsmith Ltd and the two enjoy the pace of life at their Saprae Creek home. Together they enjoy learning to ballroom dance, golf and ride their horses. They also like travelling as much as possible both in and outside the region. Mark Hodson
Hodson joined Shell Canada in 2013 as the Plant Manager for Albian Sands and is currently the Manager of Regional Development.
After the wildfire event, his portfolio includes providing leadership and oversight to Shell’s role in regional rebuilding activities following the impact of the Fort McMurray wildfire. Mark is also the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA) Industry Liaison for the Industry Recovery Working Group, where he is working closely with municipal and provincial governments to ensure industry, and its employees, have a voice in the recovery and rebuilding process.
Mark has held a number of leadership roles throughout his 20 years in the oil sands business including key roles in operations, maintenance, turnarounds and projects across mining and extraction, upgrading, utilities and in-situ businesses.
Mark is an active supporter of many Wood Buffalo-based community organizations and has served on the Board of Directors for Leadership Wood Buffalo and the Community Careers Cooperative. Mark is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo, operators of MacDonald Island Park, as its Vice Chair.
Mark has a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Alberta and remains a strong supporter of that institution. Kim Jenkins
Kim Jenkins is the Chief Administrative Officer for Kydan Industries Ltd., a construction and maintenance company specializing in Electrical, Instrumentation and Mechanical services to the oil and gas industry.
Prior to his move to Kydan, Kim was the Chief Executive Officer for the Keyano College Land Trust Corporation responsible for the development of the Trust Lands on the Saline Creek Plateau. This 472 acre project was designed to bring much needed housing to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and provide Keyano College with the funds necessary for growth and development.
Kim spent the majority of his career with the Fort McMurray Catholic School District, the last five in the role of Superintendent. During his time in senior management at the Catholic School District, he was the force behind the forging of school/business partnerships in order to create expanded learning opportunities for the children of the area. He was also instrumental in the creation of job embedded professional development for the staff of the district.
Mr. Jenkins is the past Chair of the Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corporation and spent five years as a member of the Board of Directors for the College of Alberta School Superintendents.
In addition to contributing to several multi stakeholder committees provincially, as a long-time resident of Fort McMurray, he has served as a volunteer on many boards, was a key coordinator for the Arctic Winter Games and has dedicated significant time to minor sports and community organizations.
In July 2013, Kim was named Canadian Superintendent of the year by the Canadian Association of School System Administrators. The winner of this award is someone who has exhibited exemplary leadership ability and has brought honour to themselves, their colleges and their profession. This individual has made significant contributions to the field of education through their service, writings and other activities, and who therefore serves as a role model and teacher to others. He was further recognized by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) with a blue ribbon medal for his leadership and dedication to education in Canada.
Kim recently joined the Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association Board of Directors and the Suncor Centre for the Performing Arts Advisory Board as he continues his commitment to building a better Fort McMurray.
Kim and his wife Lynn have been married for 33 years and have two children, Kelsey and Taylor, who were born, raised and educated in Fort McMurray. Kevin Fleury
Kevin Fleury has been the Chief Executive Officer and President of CEDA since September 2012, having served on CEDA’s Board of Directors prior to his appointment. Kevin’s background includes over 35 years in oilfield services covering many facets of the industry including: electrical and instrumentation, modular process fabrication, equipment rentals, large diameter cross country pipeline construction, hydro transport and tailings line maintenance and construction, civil mechanical construction services and API storage tank fabrication. Kevin previously served as President of Willbros Canada Holdings Limited, a Canadian unit at Willbros Group Inc. and as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tarpon Energy Services Ltd. Under Kevin’s leadership, Tarpon received a 50 Best Managed Companies in Canada award in 2007.
Kevin is a member of the Campaign Cabinet for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (SAIT) Promising Futures campaign and was recently appointed to the Calgary Foothills Medical Center Development Council. In his role on the CEDACares Committee, CEDA’s community giving program, Kevin has supported numerous community investments including membership in the Coalition for a Safer 63 & 881 and establishing annual scholarships and donations with Keyano College. Kevin is also an advocate for conservation as a member and donor to Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited.
Through his role on the Wood Buffalo Recovery committee, Kevin hopes to support the recovery efforts more than just financially and inspire others to do the same. As a non-resident who has developed close ties to the Wood Buffalo community over the years of working in the energy sector, Kevin looks to bring a unique perspective to the committee. Marty Giles
A lifelong Albertan and 21-year Fort McMurray resident, Marty Giles is the owner of the Northstar Ford Group and is a proud contributor to the community.
Marty has first-hand understanding of the impact of the Fort McMurray wildfire, having lost a home in Saprae Creek as well as property in the Abasand neighbourhood. A personable leader with a wide array of volunteer experience in the social profit sector in the region, Marty also saw damage to his properties in the Wood Buffalo neighbourhood.
As an employer, Marty is also supporting 11 of his Northstar Ford employees that lost homes due to the wildfire. On many levels, Marty understands acutely how the recovery process affects families and the community and is excited to get to work on the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee alongside residents and stakeholders across the community.
Marty currently sits on the Board of Directors for the United Way of Fort McMurray and was the 2015 United Way Campaign Chair, and also is a current member of the Board of Directors at Vista Ridge All Seasons Park.
Prior to his involvement with the United Way and Vista Ridge, Marty was a founding board member of Leadership Wood Buffalo and contributed to the Board of Directors at the Northern Lights Regional Health Authority, where he chaired the MRI campaign.
In September, 2016, Marty will join the Board of Directors for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.
In his own words, Marty says “I feel I bring board and governance experience based on my history in the community. Many of our staff at Northstar Ford are affected and I am affected personally by this event. With grass roots connection with the citizens of Fort McMurray as well as experience in government and industry relations I feel I will be an asset to the community in this role. Also, our own business and personal dealings with insurance companies and communities that were affected on a large scale allows me to be understand where residents are coming from in trying to navigate the labyrinth that is in front of them and us for the years ahead.” Jeannette Bancarz
Jeannette Bancarz has been the Community Branch Manager at ATB Financial for the last 6 years, and in that position she says, “I’m passionate about serving my community, leading great people and helping create an amazing client experience.” She has served on many boards and committees in the community over the last number of years, including sitting as Chair for FuseSocial for three years. She also served as Director for 4 years for the Keyano College Foundation, and as Director for Capacity Canada. Leadership Wood Buffalo, the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray and Volunteer Alberta also all benefitted from having Bancarz serving them in some form or another over the last 6 years.
Jeannette is very grateful and happy that her employer, ATB Financial has been so supportive with her taking on this new role, as it takes up many hours of her time in a week. She looks forward to working with the whole committee and seeing our community rebuilt. Maggie Farrington
Maggie Farrington is the current CEO of the Athabasca Tribal Council, and in the past she worked at the Regional Municipality as the Director of Aboriginal Relations. Prior to all of that, she worked as an assistant Crown Prosecutor. Farrington has taken on many time consuming and demanding volunteer positions over the last few years in Fort McMurray. She is currently serving a three year term on the Wood Buffalo Housing Development board, and last year she sat on the board for the 2015 Alberta Summer Games.
Maggie is truly someone who is well rounded, as she is a musician, practices yoga, dances, and has written for this magazine on home decorating do it yourself projects. She lives in Fort McMurray with her partner, Adair, and their two children.