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Fort Chipewyan, Alta., residents still have unanswered questions after oil spill town hall

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A public meeting in the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan was heated Wednesday night as Imperial Oil employees faced residents.

The town hall, which was live streamed by a local First Nation, followed a tailings pond leak at its Kearl Lake site.

"You put our community at risk just for that almighty dollar?" one man said.

"You have the money, you should have been there. You talk about trust. How are we going to regain that trust?" one woman asked.

It was the first time Imperial Oil representatives faced members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation since the spill started last May. A second, larger one, happened in early February.

"You got to understand why the people were upset and continue to be upset, not only from the community of Fort Chip but also downstream as we go further north," Chief Allan Adam told CTV News Edmonton.

Many are worried it's no longer safe to harvest the fish and wildlife they feed their families.

A company spokesperson said it has several plans in place to monitor fish and animals.

"I know you don’t trust me. Hopefully you trust the municipality, hopefully you trust Environment Canada. They have both said the water is safe to drink," he said.

"We’re doing fish salvage at water body three in the spring here and those fish will be put downstream, we’ll be doing tissue sampling of those fish at the same time."

But the arrival of spring brings new concerns.

"Has this spill been contained? What's the reclamation time period? What’s going to happen when we have thaw, when we have runoff? Is it going to contaminate the river system? These are the kinds of things that we need to know," said one resident.

Many are also upset that it took Imperial Oil and Alberta's Energy Regulator so long to notify anyone about what happened.

The company has since apologized and Premier Danielle Smith has said Alberta needs to ensure future alarms are sounded quicker.

"We had no input to give any kind of advice on how to correct the problem," Chief Adam said.

"There was some serious concerns and some serious questions that never were answered."

He says many still feel in the dark after the town hall, but believes at least one positive thing has come from the situation.

"We’re being invited by the other oil sands players to go investigate their tailings ponds and see how they’re managing. So now the doors are starting to open in regards to oversight," he said.

Imperial Oil officials say they will return with more answers next month.

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