Land release is big news

I was over in the Sport and Wellness Centre with Ministers Jeff Johnson (Infrastructure) and Greg Weadick (Advanced Education) as they handed out some grant cheques to the Fort McMurray Fish and Game Association, Northern Alberta Athletics Association (Oil Barons) and the Wood Buffalo Sport Hall of Fame.  So, I had no idea what was happening back in the Elements Meeting Room where the Keyano College Land Trust announcement was to take place.

I had received a reasonable number of replies of people that were going to be there and I was confident it was going to be a good crowd to welcome the ministers, Mayor Blake and our President, Dr. Kevin Nagel as they spilled the beans on what had happened and what it means to both the college and region.

As I brought up the rear of the entourage that had traveled from Edmonton to share the news and turned right, into the room that would host the press conference, I discovered a wall of people.  Community leaders, staff, faculty and students had filled the room to capacity and were spilling out the door.  The excitement and the energy was absolutely palpable.

Most people who call Fort McMurray home understand the unique issue we face with respect to having available land for development.  We don't have enough.  We haven't had enough for a long time.

Those in the know understood this dynamic back in 1996 when I first moved to town, the same year that former Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien traveled to our community to announce a new royalty scheme that re-ignited the oil sands industry.  As the investment projections began going up and up and up, streets once bereft of homes up in Timberlea began to fill and land available for development began going down and down and down.

"House prices are going to double," said local realtor Tim Walsh on the Need to Know Show on CJOK in 1997.

As the host of the program, my eyes bugged out in disbelief.  But, Tim was right....in a way.  In actual fact, house prices have more than quadrupled in many cases.  The condo that I bought when I moved to town for $60,000 is now selling for north of $400,000.  The manufactured home and land I bought in Cartier Park for $125,000 has seen a similar increase.  I sold long before those huge increases in value happened, but you get the point.  The absence of available land has fueled startling increases in land prices.

It probably seems counter intuitive to visitors to our region, because let's face it, we are surrounded by land, lots and lots of it.  The challenge is that most of it is crown land and the process of making it available for houses, businesses, parks and schools is no easy task.

The College and the government have been working on the Keyano College Land Trust for a long time.  It is the first in a series of land release announcements expected in the coming month as the stars align for something called the Urban Development Sub Region (UDSR) that will give us more local control of land release.

The looks of anticipation and excitement were prevalent in that packed room yesterday as the Honourable Jeff Johnson and Greg Weadick shared the news that the Lieutenant Governor had signed the Order in Council transferring 611 acres into the Keyano College Land Trust endowment earlier that morning.  In the eyes of the 125 people anxiously ingesting the good news you could see the hopes and dreams of the future, of having more developable land and everything that entails, and of having a College with a sustainable source of revenue that will help us facilitate the next decade of opportunity.

It was a great day in Wood Buffalo.

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