Wood Buffalo council meeting gets heated over fees for oilsands camps

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council meeting got heated this week as companies and councillors discussed a new proposed fee structure for oilsands camps in and around Fort McMurray.

The fees for oilsands camps only represent a few lines in a 40-page document that proposes new fees for the municipality, but the changes to camp licences and development permits took up a significant portion of time at the council meeting on Tuesday.

The proposed changes would substantially increase the fees on larger oilsands camps and if approved, would be the first time change to the fees in 11 years. In addition to the base licence fee, camps would also have additional costs per bed and costs for the number of days occupied. 

Representatives from Suncor Energy, Civeo and the Oilsands Community Alliance came to air their concerns about the changes.

“These fee increases further erode our competitiveness in this region,” said Len Savoy, manager of Indigenous and community relations at Suncor Energy.

Savoy said that a permit for a 1,000-bed work camp currently costs about $1,500, but one of the proposals — to increase the cost of a permit application for a work camp to $1,000 plus $100 per bed — would escalate that cost to $101,000.

I don’t think the reality of what’s happening in this region is being fully understood.– Mayor Don Scott

“Suncor is requesting that council not increase the fees on camps to this extraordinary degree,” said Savoy.

In 2018, Suncor paid camp property taxes of $3.2 million, Savoy said.

“Suncor is a significant taxpayer.”

Savoy said the company agrees that the fees should be increased but thinks council should consult with companies.

Mayor Don Scott has been vocal about his desire to get people out of camps and living in Fort McMurray. In January, Fort McMurray councillors voted in support of a controversial moratorium on oilsands camps within 75 kilometres of the community.  

“We need not only industry to be successful, but I need this community to be successful. Is that something that you agree with?” he asked Savoy.

Civeo, which operates workforce housing in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, runs between five or six camps with about 6,000 occupants in the Fort McMurray region, said Bob Greaves, the company’s director of land management.

Mayor Don Scott says he’d like to take representatives from oilsands companies on a tour of foreclosed homes and struggling businesses in fort McMurray. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Scott asked if the new licensing fees would hamper the company’s ability to operate these camps or open new ones.

“They would put pressure on us, yes,” said Greaves.

“That’s fantastic,” replied Scott.

Scott then invited Greaves and his colleagues to take a tour of the foreclosed properties and struggling businesses in Fort McMurray.

“I don’t think the reality of what’s happening in this region is being fully understood by everybody that’s coming before us,” Scott said. 

Greaves then invited Scott to tour the 11 closed work camps Civeo is responsible for.

“What I would like to see is a tour of a lot more than 11,” said Scott.

The proposal was referred back to administration, which will talk to stakeholders and businesses and come up with a revised proposal.

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