M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

June 10, 2020 meeting
Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Help on the way
The M.D. hopes to have a new director of transportation and utilities sometime fairly soon. CAO Allan Winarski told council an offer would be made shortly to the preferred candidate. This is someone “who has been in the area in a previous life,” he said.

The M.D. is also recruiting for the director of finance position. There have been four or five applications, Winarski said, but the news isn’t as good.

“It seems like they’re pretty weak,” he said. The application period is open until July 2.

Highways by comparison
Winarski had been in southern Alberta for a few days and among other things observing the condition of highways. The worst of them were no match for ours.

“I did not see any primary highway in as poor shape as Hwy. 88,” he said.

The M.D. is moving toward opening its office for regular business, but with changes. Circles on the floor and plastic shields, for example. Some will continue to work from home for now.

Problems with the sewer system
Winarski spoke about challenges in the sewage system – specifically the pumps that are failing at a terrific rate. Technical research is being done. Improvements are expected.

Councillor Brad Pearson had quite a bit to say on the matter. Bearings are failing in Canyon Creek. If you pay attention to how the pump sounds you should be able to tell when they are failing, he said. Freezing is more the problem at Nine Mile Point.

“It’s been a work in progress since they started putting them in the ground in 2004,” he said. “The news is not good.”

There doesn’t appear to be any easy answer, but Winarski said “you’ve got the right guy on the job.” This is Brian Vance, an engineer by profession who enjoys a technical challenge.

As for the cost of maintaining pumps, councillor Brian Rosche said, “You live in a rural area; you’re going to pay one way or another.” A septic field replacement, for example, could cost you $30,000.

Some people have the ability to cover an unforeseen cost, Pearson said, and “some don’t.”

Succession planning for the CAO
With CAO Winarski departing in a few months, what is the M.D. doing about finding a replacement? That was councillor Darcie Acton’s question, and she had the topic put on the agenda for the purpose of asking it.

“It’s well past time for us to define the process and schedule for the transition,” she said. “It will be disruptive, but we want to make it as smooth as possible.”

Acton proposed a special meeting for council to hash out what it wants and how to get it. Council agreed to discuss the matter further on June 23, the day before its next regular meeting. In a separate motion, council directed administration to begin the recruitment process, by way of a ‘headhunter.’

On traffic safety
The good news on the traffic safety front, reported M.D. peace officer Paul Mulholland, is over-weight loads are down. He attributes this to the reputation the M.D. has for levying some hefty fines in past years.

“The biggest ticket I ever wrote for over-weight was $22,000,” he said. “And that was approximately a third of what it could have been.”

Mulholland said $15,000 worth of tickets had been issued to date in 2020 for traffic violations. One of them is for somebody who moved a building without a permit – apparently in a deliberate attempt to save some money.

Some haulers “tend to play games,” he said. One of them is to take the old road (Muskeg Rd.) to the mills to avoid the weigh scales. Others have loads of logs that are higher than allowed. The maximum is 4.8 metres allowed. Some loads are up to seven metres, Mulholland said.

“Most violations are witnessed early morning or later in the evening.”

Haul contractor backs out
It turns out the low bid for the M.D. gravel haul contract was a bit too good to be true. It was the only one under the M.D.’s budget for this item, but the contractor had second thoughts about it and backed out.

“He wanted more money for mob and de-mob,” said Marvin Schneider, presenting the report for council. “I said no.”

Council could choose the next lowest bid, which was $40,000 or so over the budget, or manage it in-house and hire local truckers by the hour. It’s been done that way before.

Council like the latter option and passed a motion to make it so.

Bayer Road needs work
Angry letter #2 for council was from a resident of Bayer Road, about the recent condition of that road.

“This year is by far the worst,” it says. “Something has to be done.”

Public Works boss Marvin Schneider said the complaints are valid.

“It needs work,” he said.

Some repair (a small section) had been proposed in the M.D.’s capital budget, but was removed. Councillor Darcie Acton asked why.

“Money,” said reeve Murray Kerik.

“That’s not the only road in the M.D. with lots of problems,” said councilor Robert Esau.

Schneider concurred, saying Bayer Road is actually good compared to at least one other road in the M.D.

“We’re going to have some decisions to make,” he said.

For now, the M.D. has (or had) a small dozer on site. A grader “would sink out of sight,” Schneider said.

Roads generally
Moving on to other roads with similar problems, council had an occasionally contentious discussion on what could be done. Councillor Esau returned to his frequently-stated opinion that the M.D. should spend less on recreation and more on roads. Councillor Brad Pearson suggested trucks with more axles/wheels would do less damage.

The timing of hauls is one problem, council heard. If haulers would stay off when the roads are soft it would make a big difference.

‘Aggressive’ road correction
Continuing his report on the state of M.D. roads, Schneider said Muskeg Road is in “horrible shape,” East Fawcett and Township Rd. 654 have some bad spots and West Tieland Road is better than it was.

Apparently it’s been a worse than usual spring for rural roads. The story is the same – or even worse – in other municipalities.

Councillor Sandra Melzer made a motion for the M.D. to come up with “some kind of plan for aggressive road correction.”

CAO Allan Winarski said in some cases a local improvement charge might be the way to make it happen.

The motion passed.

A second motion, to review the M.D.’s graveling policy, by councilor Esau, also passed.

Fawcett Lake, Lawrence Lake and Chain Lakes
The closure of three provincial recreation areas within the M.D. will not happen this season, council heard. The province still plans to proceed with its plan for getting out of the business of running these facilities. After this season, Alberta Parks will “start an engagement with interested parties to look at partnering on operations into the future.”

That could mean private operators; if none come forward, would the M.D. contemplate running the campgrounds? That’s a discussion and decision for another day.

Everybody loves a parade
Council gave all three readings to a new bylaw governing parades. The intent is to ensure safety as much as possible. Organizations will have to apply for a parade permit.

“It’s not a big deal,” said reeve Kerik. “We only have three parades a year.”

Special events
Also up for council’s consideration was a new bylaw on the holding of special events. It replaces a very old bylaw (from the Improvement District days) on concerts. Like the parades bylaw, it sets up a licensing process and rules.

“When you’re gathering 300 or more people on private land,” said Russ Jassman, presenting the report, “things can go sideways really fast and really big. This is to make sure people have a plan in place. To mitigate some of those risks.”

The risks became evident at an un-permitted event held in 2016, called the Majestic Meadows Full Moon Festival. Local residents complained about it (the M.D. had been unaware it was happening) and the M.D. had to step in.
Council approved the bylaw.

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