June 7, 2023 meeting
Status report on policing
Acting RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Casey Bruyns brought council up to speed on RCMP activity in the first quarter of 2023. His report was concise, to say the least. Property crimes and crimes against persons were down, he said, and traffic tickets were “way up.”
Bruyns also spoke about the RCMP involvement in the response to the wildfire situation that forced evacuations in the M.D. He said he was able to get extra forces from elsewhere in the province for the duration.
“It was nice to see a presence in Smith,” said councillor Nancy Sand.
In other news, Bruyns said the detachment is down one ‘provincial’ member. That’s one of the four that typically focus on the M.D., as opposed to Slave Lake. A replacement is expected next month.
Councillor Darren Fulmore had one. He brought up an incident at a waste management facility at Lawrence Lake, back in March. Somebody was caught in the act, having broken in. Police were called, but said it wasn’t worth laying charges, as it would be “laughed out of court.”
Bruyns was surprised to hear it. He said when he was in Hinton, they charged people for similar break-ins, and liked doing it.
“That is kind of weird,” he said, taking notes. He promised to look into it.
It’s bad in Smith, added CAO Barry Kolenosky. The transfer station there has been broken into nine times.
Councillor Pearson asked if some targeted patrols in Canyon Creek could be considered, now that the marina will be serving alcohol.
“On the water?” asked Bruyns.
Mainly on the ground, said Pearson.
Traffic unit coming back to Slave Lake
Bruyns’ biggest news, perhaps, had to do with the return of the RCMP’s traffic unit – or at least part of it – to Slave Lake after an absence of about a dozen years. It had been located in Slave Lake for a number of years, but after the 2011 wildfires, had been moved to Westlock for some reason.
The return of the service is contingent upon a new, bigger RCMP detachment building being built in Slave Lake, Bruyns told council. He said (or strongly implied) that this has gone past the stage of mere discussion and the province has agreed to the move.
Asked about the homelessness situation in Slave Lake, Bruyns spoke about a camp having been dismantled, with the involvement of the property owner. Another one appeared in land that he said is “kind of a grey area,” in that it is owned by the province, but isn’t really ‘Crown land.’ And the province doesn’t seem too keen on doing anything about the situation.
As for the location of the overnight shelter this past winter, Bruyns said RCMP received a lot fewer complaints from the public than they had the previous year, when it was located closer to downtown.
Bruyns added he had met with the new Homeless Coalition executive director and was impressed by her. She had told him the long-term goal was to find permanent housing for homeless people.
Water conservation measures adopted
Council had a new M.D. water conservation policy for consideration. It has a lot to do with the measures the M.D. will take when its water reservoirs get down to a certain level. Different conservation measures would kick in at certain trigger points, becoming more stringent as the levels fall. If it gets really dire, water supply to the public could be cut off altogether, with final priority being for firefighting use.
“We just want the ability to control our water,” said Donna Cross, the utilities department director.
How to communicate these various levels of crisis response was naturally a big concern for councillors. They suggested some minor amendments, and got what they wanted. A one-time mailout of the new rules is one thing. Another is posting the water conservation measures being taken at truck fill sites, when the time comes.
Council voted in favour of a motion to approve the water conservation policy and procedure as amended.
Seppola Drive RR Xing
The M.D. has learned from CN Rail that the warning signals at the crossing at Seppola Drive in Canyon Creek are not up to federal standards and must be upgraded. Lights and bells need to be added, says the report in council’s agenda package.
CN has applied for federal funding for half the cost of the work and hopes to split the remainder with the M.D. However, the M.D. has discovered the M.D. doesn’t own Seppola Drive; in fact it’s an Alberta Transportation responsibility. This information has been passed on to CN.
The report does not say when the work is to happen, and predicts “minimal impact” on residents.
Funding application for Marten Beach flood mitigation sent off
This report was to let council know, formally, that an application for federal funding for a flood mitigation project for Marten Beach has been completed and submitted. It caps off a lengthy process of study, planning and application writing, involving a team of M.D. employees, working with an engineering firm.
The federal fund provides up to 40 per cent of approved project costs.
Whether this one gets approved is the big question. The report says applications are evaluated on such factors as natural hazard risk, the extent to which the project strengthens community resiliency, project rationale, use of innovation and natural infrastructure and so on.
Another factor is something called a ‘return-on-investment weighting’ ratio. It has to be at least 2:0, and the Marten Beach one is rated 5:8. The report says this indicates “the project has merit.”
A response is not expected for several months.
Smith bridge repairs to be re-tendered
Council passed a motion to re-tender a repair job on the Athabasca River bridge at Smith. No details were provided in the agenda package, and no discussion on the topic took place in an open session. Council had spent some time behind closed doors with somebody from Associated Engineering, likely talking about the bridge project.
CAO Kolenosky subsequently told The Leader the bridge repairs include “a bunch of structural things,” including bent and cracked steel, and deck leveling. The decision to re-tender, he said, was due to the fact only one bid was received, and it was “way over budget.”
Kolenosky said other companies had been interested in the job, but were unable to visit the site due to the state of local emergency that was in place due to the nearby wildfires last month.
The M.D.’s human resources director presented a report detailing proposed changes to the employee benefits package. They included the implementation of a health care spending account and a wellness spending account. The budget for this was already approved, but councillor Brad Pearson didn’t like the sound of it.
“This is starting to sound like the federal government here,” he said. “How much money are we going to throw to the wind?”
His colleagues were looking at it differently.
“Every municipality has a health and wellness account,” said councillor Nancy Sand.
“It can mean a lot to the individual employee,” offered councillor Sandra Melzer.
“I think it’s a great approach,” said councillor Norm Seatter.
Pearson stuck to his guns: “It gets a little ridiculous what the M.D. is expected to pay for,” he said.
The matter was tabled, pending further information.
Council approved a policy that makes an M.D.-owned residence available to new employees coming into the organization who may need help with housing. It’s thought having the housing might make recruitment easier.
CAO Kolenosky reported on the latest in the M.D.’s wildfire response activities, which were either pretty much wrapped up (or maybe just in a lull). He said the M.D. had received a ‘thank you’ letter from the military for use of its facilities. The regional fire service had also taken the trouble to thank the M.D. for its help in the Old Smith Highway evacuation situation.
Kolenosky said he’d drafted a ‘thank you’ letter himself, on behalf of the M.D., for “everybody that helped us out.”
The issue of communication during an emergency came up (as it always does). Councillor Fulmore talked about how, during the 2011 wildfire situation, councillors provided updates to residents at evac. centres.
“The world has changed since 2011,” said Kolenosky. “The M.D. is not responsible for any of this. There are trained professionals, and they’re really good.”
On the whole, Kolenosky said, “we did okay. There are things we could improve on. Some things went like clockwork.”