I’m Melissa Blake, two-term Mayor with two additional terms on Council before that. I have served the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo as an elected official continuously since 1998. I am 40 years old, happily married to Peter Jurak and we have two sons, Jackson (6 yrs) and Jason (15 months). Peter was born in Fort McMurray and I came as a child in 1982, and this is the only home for each of us. I graduated from Composite High, attended Keyano College and completed my Bachelor of Administration degree there through Athabasca University. I have worked in many positions, from service to professional, but the bulk of my career was at Syncrude in such areas as Public Affairs, Materials & Services, and, finally, Recruiting.
Why are you running in Election 2010?
Having had the past six years to turn things around for Wood Buffalo, I am running again so that I can finish important work related to recent land releases and meeting community needs, including housing, municipal infrastructure, social supports, commercial and industrial land requirements. We must be vigilant about keeping pace with whatever growth is to come and land is essential. I also believe there is an imminent need to have a strong, respected and realistic spokesperson for our region in the face of heavy environmental criticism – we need to encourage a more reasonable debate about the future of our oil sands.
What do you want the voters to know going into the 2010 municipal elections?
In the face of extreme growth and financially impossible times, I was able to present a case to the Energy and Utilities board in 2006 that resulted in the Radke Report (Responding to Rapid Growth in the Oil Sands) and the formation of the Oil Sands Secretariat. There were significant announcements of support from the Government of Alberta, and I earned the trust and respect of the Ministers along the way. This is not the time to forfeit those hard-earned relations and the results they bring for our residents.
Questions from the Tribe
On Aug the 25th, I asked the folks who are engaged around the my oil sands blog and twitter feed for their questions – what would they like to ask municipal candidates. Here are five of the questions and Melissa’s answers.
Q: What does the municipality need to be ready for another wave of development? via @OilsandsEditor
MB: We need land that is ready for development. We must accelerate planning and servicing so that we can be ready to go as land is required. We are still just catching up. Municipal staffing must also keep pace, but we are compromised by a lack of space to accommodate new employees. We must get to work on a new Civic Center loaded with both employee office/work space as well as community access space. We also need better social amenities like space for non-profit, faith and cultural groups, schools and health centers, including a continuing care facility as soon as possible. We need additional recreational assets that will also ensure reasonable access for citizens. We need to have both the financial and human resources to carry out the required work. And we need to be certain that we will have vital support from other orders of government to ensure we are able to adequately handle the inevitable growth.
Q: What are the candidates views on the possibility of implementing a state-of-the-art waste management program that includes curb-side pick up of both recycling and compost? via Anonymous
MB: A curbside garden waste pickup program was implemented in 2009 and has been successful at diverting organics in biodegradable bags that can be composted. In 2011, the RMWB will commence a pilot curbside recycling program and anticipates full-service in Fort McMurray as soon as the pilot is successful. There is already a Materials Enhanced Recycling Facility (MERF) that is located at the new landfill in anticipation of this new service. We have a target of 50% diversion, and I would be pleased to support any initiatives that can meet or exceed that target.
Q: How will the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) secure enough provincial land at once to manage development sustainably? via @KyleHarrietha
MB: In the near term, the development of North Parson (1,000 acres) will be likely to have lots available to developers in 2011 with first housing by 2012. There is a limit of 800 homes that can be built in the first phase until the overpass is completed for greater access, which is essential for the 1,000,000 sq ft of commercial space expected. Saline Creek, another 1,000 acres, has an approved Area Structure Plan and is in the hands of the Government of Alberta to release. It has access to a new water and sewage line and could be easily commenced. Just a few months ago, the Government of Alberta also announced some 1,200 acres of industrial property on what are called “the Southlands.” The first 625 acres are expected to be marketed by MLS very soon.
I also note a very real risk to people who have bought at the top of the market finding a surplus of units depreciating market values over all. Readily available, developable land is essential, but we must also manage it so that we do not bring great harm to any of our residents while we welcome new citizens to our region.
The Municipality is also in early discussions with the Government of Alberta to identify what would be a 20-year supply of land in Wood Buffalo, so that the release process could take as little as three months rather than three years.
Q: Is the candidate pro-oil sands, and if so, how would they be proactive in oil sands public relations management? via @TOMCOGroup
MB: I’m a 100% proud supporter of the oil sands. I have personally worked in the business for nine years and my husband is still employed by the oil sands. The oil sands have afforded my family a great living. All of our citizens are here because of the oil sands. This city, this region is well off directly as a result of the oil sands. All of our small and large local businesses are here for the opportunity the oil sand provided. And we continue to grow into a larger city/region as the oil sands expands.
However, I would be remiss if I did not state that oil sands expansion is followed by Fort McMurray/regional growth. Therefore, it is imperative the Provincial and Federal Governments join with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to achieve managed growth for the good of the oil sand industry and its surrounding areas. Anything less is chaos as we have experienced short years ago.
On the personal side I have defended the oil sands and this region locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. My experience has taught me that we need to do a better job in the field of publicity. In response I have developed a platform on my website titled: Meeting the Regional Publicity Challenge.
Q: Whenever I drive up Franklin and pass the old Brick building, I can’t help but think about the cost to the taxpayer – it’s over $360k per year. What are your thoughts on this issue? via @MyOilSands
MB: In this situation, the unfortunate balking of Council has truly wasted taxpayer money and given nothing in return. Council should have thought more carefully about their expectations when the lease was first considered. The indecisiveness has cost money and lost opportunity, which is a double whammy.
This property has been a problem ever since we acquired it. The purpose was to accommodate increasing municipal staff and once we received the estimate to upgrade and create the space, Council asked publicly to buy out of the lease. That public declaration, along with the identified expense to bring the building up to code caused the Lessor to invalidate that opportunity. Council was again asked to consider a budget to accommodate staff, but that motion failed with a divided Council vote. While costs had come down during the recession, some Councillors were concerned about parking. It was later proved that 92 offices could be accommodated and our parking requirements met. Some Councillors have advocated providing the space for non-profit groups, which I might support under the right circumstances, but
Council would still have to authorize the leasehold improvements, which it rejected in the spring. The monthly lease rate is very reasonable but, regrettably, the cost of bringing the building to code has been an impediment for some of my colleagues and so, instead, the building remains empty.
I do anticipate that with the new Council, a solid understanding of staff requirements and future accommodation availability, and any indicated interests by others in subleasing the property, a final decision can be rationally made.