Q&A with the MLA: What does the Urban Development Sub-Region mean for Fort McMurray?

I understand there was a significant announcement regarding the Urban Development Sub-Region last week. Can you explain what the UDSR is and what it means for Fort McMurray?

Fort McMurray is experiencing considerable urban population growth related to oil sands development. The city, surrounded by Crown land, needs a larger urban land base to accommodate new residential, commercial and light industrial growth.

The need to address this growth was identified by the province in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (2012), the Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plan (CRISP) for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area (2011) and Responsible Actions: A plan for Alberta’s Oils Sands (2009), Alberta’s 20-year strategic plan for the oil sands. The need for additional land, as well as the regional municipality’s growth management strategy, were outlined in its October 2011 Municipal Development Plan.

The province and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo signed a Memorandum of Understanding in August 2011 to cooperate on the establishment of an Urban Development Sub-region.

The size of the Urban Development Sub-region is approximately 22,386 ha or 55,293 acres: more than double the size of Fort McMurray. This large land base allows room for coordinated long-term planning between the municipality and the province.

In addition to meetings with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, consultation sessions took place from September 2012 to January 2013 in the form of public engagement sessions and direct meetings. Input was sought on the boundary from local First Nations and stakeholders, including industry and the general public.

Oil sands exploration and development has been deemed incompatible with future municipal development within the Urban Development Sub-region.  All oil sands agreements will be cancelled within the Sub-region.  Surface dispositions associated with these oil sands agreements will also be cancelled.

The province will work with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo at the time of land sale to review all other surface dispositions (i.e. those not associated with oil sands exploration and development).  Replacement agreements will be negotiated for activities that are compatible with municipal development.

Holders of any surface and/or subsurface dispositions that are cancelled will be compensated per the Mineral Rights Compensation Regulation and/or the Public Lands Act.

There are currently 32 oil sands leases owned by 10 companies in the Urban Development Sub-region. These leases will be cancelled. There are also approximately 200 surface dispositions that may or may not be cancelled in the future. Government officials will be meeting with parties and working with them through the cancel and compensation process, which will begin immediately.

The sale of Crown land will be phased as the municipality grows over a period of time to coordinate land sales with planning for growing infrastructure needs. Land will be sold to the regional municipality and title to the land will be transferred under authority of the Public Lands Act.

The UDSR is a long-term plan.  Specific land development projects within the Urban Development Sub-region will take a minimum of 5 years to get underway.  Major transportation and utility infrastructure projects must be completed before land development can take place.  A decline in real estate prices is not anticipated as a result of establishing the boundaries of the UDSR.

More information on the Urban Development Sub Region, including maps, can be found http://www.energy.alberta.ca/Initiatives/3508.asp.

As the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, I am always interested in engaging with constituents. Please feel free to contact my office at any time to share your ideas or questions at (780) 588-7979 orfortmcmurray.conklin@assembly.ab.ca.