M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

April 24, 2024 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Annual fire report

I know I’m saying this every year, said Regional Fire Chief Alex Pavcek, kicking off the meeting, but 2023 was a record year for calls.

A large number of callouts to wildfires was one reason, although Pavcek later told council the seven straight days of working on the fires near Smith counted as only one call-out.

Of the 692 calls, 168 were in the ‘medical co-response’ category. This has gone up a lot in the past few years, and Pavcek was asked about it. He cited “multiple reasons why it’s gone up.” As for fire crews’ ability to help on such calls, that’s gone up too, thanks to a lot of training. We do it for ourselves (I.e. firefighter safety) first, said the chief, but “it pays dividends all the way around.”

Councillor Brad Pearson was all for it. A quick response by the fire department saved his dad’s life, he said.

Pavcek was asked about the communication side of things, in the case of an incident. Apparently questions were being asked about how that was handled with the Canyon Creek fire that happened the previous Sunday.

First, Pavcek said, we have to figure out what we’re dealing with, and if we can handle it. Within 25 minutes he had texted both the M.D. and town CAOs and advised them they were handling it.

“If an alert is needed,” he said, “it will be there.”

If you put out an alert for everything, observed Councillor Norm Seatter, “people start to ignore it.”

Fire Chief Alex Pavcek

Beach clean-up, etc.

Ag Fieldman’s Kendra Kozdroski’s first item in her report had nothing to do with agriculture. She told council M.D. staff had met with Alberta Parks to talk about a clean-up day for Devonshire Beach. Mid-May is looking like when it will happen, and maybe another one in July, or at least before the Beach Fest event in August. She also talked about seasonal employees coming on board, various workshops and courses, weed inspection standards and so on.

One of the courses was on the operation of drones, held at the Flatbush Complex.

“How much?” asked Pearson.

“$500,” said Kozdroski. “But free to us for hosting it.”

The M.D. has two drones.

Speaking of beaches, said Councillor Nancy Sand, how about at West Fawcett? Can we get that cleaned up?

“We talked to Parks,” said Kozdroski. “It’s a historical site. They’re going to look into it.”

Historical or not, what’s in the lake is a hazard to boating, Sand said. It should be taken out.

It’s not our jurisdiction, said CAO Kolenosky.

“Just keep a push on it,” said Sand.

ATCO Electri, on hazard reduction

Shawn Hines and Richard Watson of ATCO Electric spoke to council about ATCO’s hazard reduction efforts along power lines. They have an extensive program of identifying and removing hazard trees, including in a couple of areas council has identified as risky in the Smith region.

In the Broken Paddle area, for example, 494 trees were removed last year, Watson said. An estimated 1,500 more are slated for removal this year.

Pearson shared his opinion that power line right of ways are too narrow. Hines went over a list of reasons why they aren’t wider. One reason is because the more the company spends on maintenance, the higher power bills will be. The width is part of an agreement with the province, but he couldn’t say for sure whether it is mandated by the province. He said he’d look into it and get back to the M.D. on it.

Pearson said at least newly constructed right of ways should be made wider, in his view.

Another safety program ATCO is investing in, Hines said, is something called ‘grid-mod (modernization).’

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” Hines said. “We’re looking at ways to reduce the hazard in times of high wind and crossover conditions.”

Councillor Darren Fulmore came back to the topic he’s raised numerous times at the council table. The risk of people being trapped if fire breaks out along the only road in or out, such as Otter Creek Road near Smith. Trees on power lines started several fires there in recent years, which he said were put out by local people.

Councillor Nancy sand said some trees marked for removal were untouched two years later.

“Unlikely,” said Watson. “But it does happen.”

“We make mistakes,” added Hines.

First quarter HR

In my opinion, said CAO Kolenosky, “we’re becoming an employer of choice.”

Kolenosky offered as evidence the fact the M.D. had received 440 responses to job postings, and had conducted 56 interviews.

The report included eight positions that are (or were) still open, including three equipment operators. One grader operator for Flatbush had been hired, Kolenosky said, but after a couple of months on the job, “he was offered more money from the private sector and was gone.”

Are the director positions all full? asked Councillor Spencer.

Director of Operations is still open, Kolenosky said. The work is being handled by him and Shari Spencer for the time being.

The report also included photos of nine new employees, including a new Level III wastewater operator, who it turns out isn’t quite Level III yet, but soon will be, council was assured.

CN invoice for Canyon Creek crossing

Pearson brought this up again. CN wants $20,000 from the M.D. to help pay for a crossing upgrade on Seppola Drive in Canyon Creek. Pearson’s contention is that it isn’t an M.D. road, so they shouldn’t have to pay. He had asked administration to seek clarification.

“They plow it,” he said. “They paved it.” They being the province.

The view of Alberta Transportation, council heard, is that although the road isn’t registered, it’s on an M.D. right of way, and so by default the responsibility goes to the M.D.

“They do it (plowing) as a favour to us.”

“The Municipal Government Act is pretty clear we are the custodians of those right of ways,” said Spencer.

“There’s a time to push back,” said Pearson.

Councillor Norm Seatter said there’s a similar issue on North Shore Drive by Marten Beach. From the T intersection to the Marten Creek bridge, the M.D. does maintenance. But that section of the road is in the provincial park, so shouldn’t the province be responsible?

At that, Pearson made a motion to send a letter to Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen, seeking clarification of ownership of Seppola Drive.

“Might be opening a can of worms,” said Councillor Sand.

Pearson was the only one who voted in favour of the motion, a result which did not please him.

“So you guys are scared!” he said. “Okay!”

Dugouts and such

Cody Borris’s first quarter report on M.D. facilities was brief, but got interesting when Councillor Melzer asked about maintenance of the ball diamond infrastructure at the Flatbush Complex. It had to get some quick repairs to make it usable for a tournament last year. Both the dugouts and the bleachers were unfit for use.

“Last year, we made them work,” she said, and asked Borris if they could be checked in case baseball (or more likely softball) is organized again in 2024.

“Nothing planned, but we can take a look,” he said.

“Is it in the budget?” asked Pearson.

“We own them!” said Melzer.

“M.D.’s gotta do ‘er all,” said Pearson. “Sad.”

Equipped for firefighting?

Reeve Murray Kerik asked Borris if M.D. vehicles are equipped for firefighting. Some have a shovel and a rake, Borris said, and that’s about it. No Wajax bags, for example.

“Maybe we should,” said Kerik.

“They rattle around in the back of your truck,” said Pearson. “And when you need them, they don’t work.”

Shortest season ever

Borris’s report on M.D. road maintenance had the interesting tidbit that this has been “the shortest culvert-steaming season ever.” It lasted about three days, he said.

There have been some problems with the Muskeg Rd. bridge – the one that’s been closed due to structural defects. Borris didn’t say exactly what was going on, but said, “We secured it better and it’s been quieter.”

Cameras

The M.D. is enhancing its security camera system at its facilities, including the Flatbush office. Councillor Melzer thought it might be invasive.

It’s for the protection of our staff, said CAO Kolenosky. There have been a number of instances. It’s to capture everybody coming in.

How about the panic button, asked Kerik. RCMP might take an hour and a half to get there. It goes to the RCMP and to somebody local, Kolenosky said.

Planning and development

It’s been busy in the first two weeks of April, reported department director Rudolf Liebenberg. His written report had statistics only up to the end of March, which show seven development permit applications, and five permits issued.

The Municipal Planning Commission will have at least six subdivision applications it will have to deal with at its May meeting, Liebenberg said.

On another note, M.D. staff went through an ‘essential dog training techniques’ course a couple of months ago, which Liebenberg said was “really good.”

Why is that needed, asked Sand.

“We go on site,” Liebenberg said. “There might be loose dogs.”

Utilities update

The new guy “is exactly what we want,” said utilities manager Jeremy Dumaresque. The ‘guy’ is Nathan Braun, a wastewater operator.

One of the Smith water intake lines froze, Dumaresque reported.

“I’ve never seen that before.”

What made it unexpected is that the line is buried 10 or 12 feet deep, Dumaresque said.

The lack of snow cover might have something to do with it, said Councillor Sand.

They got it thawed out by forcing hot water, or steam, down the line.

Councillor Pearson asked how many delinquent properties there are, when it comes to hooking up to municipal sewer in the South Shore area. Dumaresque said he didn’t know the number, but three had signed on recently.

How about those dry hydrants, asked Councillor Spencer. Not in service, she was told. Better look into that, she said, with the fire hazard being what it is.

How about putting up water tanks as a precaution, like in past fire seasons, asked Pearson.

We haven’t had that discussion yet, said Kolenosky.

No tax penalty for late payment, thanks to administrative boo-boo

Thanks to an administrative error, a person won’t have to pay a penalty for late payment of their 2023 taxes. The property taxes in fact were paid on the first day the M.D. office was open in 2024. That’s still late, and after Dec. 31 anything not paid incurs a 12 per cent penalty.

The administrative mistake was in thinking Jan. 2 (a Tuesday) was the first day the office was opened in the new year. In fact it wasn’t; Jan. 3 was that day, which is when balance was paid.

The recommendation for council was to not waive the penalty, which came to around $1,400. A motion to that effect was made, but was withdrawn when the error came to light. It turned out no motion was required.

Line painting cost doubles

The M.D. got only one proposal for line painting on its paved roads. It was about double what the M.D. paid last year, at $33,358.

There’s no law that we have to do it every year, council heard. On the other hand, we do have to make sure the lines are visible.

“We have to do it,” said Councillor Seatter. “It’s a safety issue.”

Council voted to go ahead with it.

Policy exception in buying a new (used) water truck

M.D. administration wants to deviate from the M.D.’s procurement policy and get right after buying a used water truck at auction. Normally, the M.D. is required to put all purchases over a certain dollar amount out to a public bid process. But the truck is needed right away, council heard, due to the likelihood of it being called on to help fight wildfires. The existing truck is old and facing all sorts of repairs, estimated at $100,000.

Exceptions to the procurement policy are allowed, under certain conditions, one of those being the need to protect public safety.

So how about it, council was asked. Can we deviate from policy and make a quicker purchase at an auction?

Council approved the motion as recommended. Whether such a vehicle can be found for the budgeted $150,000 is another question.

CPO policy and procedures approved

The new M.D. policy on community peace officers and associated procedures was passed, with no discussion. As noted in last week’s Leader, it covers a range of things, from video use and data storage to reporting requirements to general operating procedures.

Soil conservation policy

This policy, much discussed at the last council meeting but not at all at this one, was brought back with amendments for final approval.

“Motion to accept!” said Pearson.

Council voted unanimously in favour.

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