Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold recently went on a one day tour of Alberta oil sands developments and related enterprises in the Fort McMurray area on Aug. 15, 2013.
The tour, meant to familiarize stakeholders along the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline route with activities at the source of the project, was organized by Enbridge Northern Gateway.
It included a tour of Suncor Energy Inc. open-pit mine operation, as well as meetings with local business people and community leaders.
Twenty-eight people were on the tour, including local representatives from across the region, including Fraser Lake, Houston, and Kitimat.
Mayor Strimbold responded to questions put to him by Lakes District News.
How was this invitation for a visit different from the one Village of Burns Lake (VBL) council declined to accept from Enbridge regarding a tour of their Michigan clean-up site?
The invitation was directed to myself. According to our process, I am able to accept invitations where there are no expenses incurred by the Village of Burns Lake.
What did you take home from the visit to Northern Alberta?
Our tour was only one day so we received a high level overview of Suncor’s operations with mention of a few other projects. Northern Alberta is a very busy region for both industrial activity and the community itself. They have first class recreation facilities, continuously doing road and infrastructure upgrades, adding residential zones to the municipality, and working on their healthcare programs.
Did the visit influence your views on the Northern Alberta oil industry, either pro or con?
I will continue to have an open mind and gather information, both pro and con.
Part of your tour included visits with at least one Native development corporation. How were the First Nations you met with involved in the energy industry?
I can give a brief overview; however, the details should come from the organizations themselves. Both companies were involved at different levels. One provides an opportunity for First Nation businesses to obtain contracts with large corporations. Generally contracts require a substantial amount of equipment and ‘turnkey ready’. This organization has built relationships with the energy industry to allow for First Nations to get suitable contracts. The other First Nation cooperation is a business that provides services to the region, which includes industry.
Were you able to visit with any First Nations groups opposed to oil sands development?
Our tour was organized to provide a high level overview of the oil sands. The tour was a full day of information gathering and viewing the operations. We had an opportunity to meet with local community leaders who expressed both the opportunities and challenges from their perspectives.
Could you expand on those challenges?
Some of the challenges that resonated with me were the challenge of keeping provincial revenue generated in the North returning to the North, and the challenges of keeping up with infrastructure and health care needs.
Did the tour help clarify your own views on Enbridge Northern Gateway? If so, how?
The tour emphasized the amount of information to collect and the importance of a review process.
Would you do a tour of the oilsands organized by groups opposed to the development, just to get a look at the other side of the story?
Absolutely, I continue to be open minded about all development.
If VBL council were asked to take a position today on the Northern Gateway project, would you today vote in favour of the project?
At this point I am not prepared to take a position on the Northern Gateway project. We do not have the capacity to review the substantial amount of information provided by the intervenors and Northern Gateway.
Rita Lavoie’s recent letter to the editor raised a sentiment that some in Burns Lake share. She is concerned that your vision for Burns Lake includes Enbridge. Does your vision for Burns Lake include the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project?
My vision for Burns Lake is to have a safe and healthy community, a strong economy, a plan for infrastructure management, and a sustainable environment. Our vision for the Village of Burns Lake can be found in detail in our Municipal Goals and Objectives. These are the most important issues to our local community.