June 24, 2020 meeting
Council’s June 24 meeting turned out to be a bit of a marathon – and that was just the open part of it. After six hours council went in camera, to deal with three or four more items it deemed too sensitive for public view.
Chewing up the first two hours of the meeting were presentations on what might be done to alleviate two major headaches for the M.D. – Bayer Road and pump failures in the south shore waste water system.
A Paradox solution for Bayer Rd?
A company called Paradox Access Solutions presented to council an alternative solution for the woes of the perpetually soft and failing Bayer Road. It’s called the ‘geo cell’ confinement system. According to presenter John Laycock, it has the effect of spreading out the impact of vehicles, at the same time as keeping the sand and/or gravel from pushing out to the sides.
Rutting is reduced, the road maintains its shape and maintenance costs plummet.
Laycock had council’s attention, because maintaining roads like Bayer is endlessly costly and frustrating.
“Thirteen thousand dollars-worth of gravel put on there two weeks ago and it’s basically gone,” he said. “It’s just sinking out of sight.”
How much? asked councillor Brian Rosche.
Depends, said Laycock. If it’s just the geo cell material, it’s about $18 per square metre. More if the company is engaged to install it.
Later in the meeting, a figure of $375,000 was mentioned as an estimate for the whole road, based on that per-metre price.
“I’m intrigued,” said reeve Murray Kerik. “Bayer Rd. might be the place to try it out.”
CAO Allan Winarski’s update for council started off with the news he had submitted his letter of resignation to the reeve, “so that council can commence its search for a replacement.” Winarski, who has been on the job since 2003 or thereabouts. He said his last day on the job will be Sept. 30.
New roads boss on his way
Winarski’s other big news was that the search for a director of transportation and utilities is over. The new man is Ryan Tufts, a mechanical engineer with experience in the oil and gas and environmental sectors. He is due to start at the end of next month. The M.D. is still in the hunt for a director of finance.
No more handing out herbicides
The M.D.’s role of providing herbicides to farmers via the Ag Service Board’s weed control program is changing. New regulations from the province impose stricter standards for storage of such chemicals, and the M.D. isn’t prepared to go there. Accordingly, council was asked to approve an amended version of the Weed Control Partnership Policy. It reflects the direction to cease the “vending and redistribution of herbicides to our producers.”
“It’s too bad we have to do this,” said councillor Sandra Melzer.
Councillor Robert Esau thinks so too, and went further. He called it “a real shame,” and predicted it would create an even worse problem than the one it was trying to solve.
“Now we’ll have all kinds of people storing all kinds of chemicals.”
Farewell to fusarium
Apparently, fusarium head blight (FHB) is not the problem it was once thought to be. Earlier this month the provincial government took it off the nuisance control list. The M.D. was following up by rescinding its policy on the former pest. Council approved the motion with no discussion.
Drainage, or the lack of it
Water is flooding people’s properties in an area of Widewater and the culprit is apparently ditches that aren’t doing the job they were designed for. Or maybe a lack of ditches altogether. Photos were provided in council’s agenda package, showing standing water in lawns and driveways.
Marvin Schneider, presenting the report, told council the M.D. is doing some ditching work, but there’s a bigger problem and it would need to be considered as a budget item for 2021.
At that, councillor Esau pointed out there are “miles of ditches along rural roads that aren’t draining any more.” He said he’d like something done about them as well.
“It’s nothing but money,” said Schneider.
Council passed a motion to have the Widewater ditching included as a ‘decision paper’ (proposed budget item) in the fall.
No gravel haul overhaul
Schneider’s other item was about the M.D.’s policy on re-graveling roads. In general it calls for roads to receive new gravel every three years. However, there are roads that don’t need it that often and others, he said, that could use it more often. Should the policy be changed?
Councillors were inclined to let Schneider make adjustments according to his knowledge of the situation and leave the policy be.
“I don’t think we want to reduce our gravel budget,” said reeve Kerik. “We just want to make sure it’s going in the right places. I would be comfortable leaving it in your hands.”
The discussion inevitably morphed into one about what to do about problem spots. No amount of gravel can solve them, it seems. If we fixed them properly, said councillor Melzer, maybe we’d have lower maintenance costs.
“It all depends on how much money you want to spend,” said Schneider, echoing the advice of every public works manager in the history of the M.D.
Council passed a Robert Esau motion to allow Schneider the discretion on how and where to apply gravel.
The M.D. is managing the gravel haul this year, instead of turning the whole job over to a contractor. This came about after the successful bidder on the job started having second thoughts and asked for more money. So the M.D. put out the word to area haulers, asking for prices. Schneider told council, “we picked one truck from the first 14 companies” (that responded).
Councillor Pearson has some reservations about that system, which he said could result in the M.D. spending more than it should, since not every owner’s rate would be the same. He didn’t get much traction with his colleagues.
“I think you’re on your own on this one,” said reeve Kerik.
“It’s not even an agenda item,” said Esau.
Boat launch swamped
It wasn’t an agenda item, but in council’s package were several photos of the high water at the M.D. boat launch on the Lesser Slave River. It is causing some problems.
“It’s at the point we might have to sandbag the outhouse!” said director of rural services Barry Kolenosky.
Reeve Kerik’s wry observation was that there will be no need for dredging this year.
Canyon Creek beach clean-up
Councillor Brian Rosche took the lead on this item. It’s high time something was done about it, he said. In 2012, the Minister of the Environment was there and agreed it needed to be done. This included getting some old timbers out of the water. And nothing has happened. He proposed a motion “to direct administration to get the beach cleaned up.”
Russell Jassman spoke up to say an application for temporary field authorization (TFA) has been launched. A separate approval for working in the water may be needed, he said. Council wants ‘perpetual approval’ from the provincial government to keep the beach clean.
“Like they have in Sylvan Lake,” said councillor Pearson.
Canyon Creek west campground
Council made the decision a few weeks ago that this campground would be closed for the season. Signs were put up to that effect, but have been removed.
“Camping is going on there,” said councillor Brad Pearson. “Signage and enforcement is not (adequate).”
“Can we evict people?” asked councillor Darcie Acton.
“It’s not a bylaw infraction,” said councillor Brian Rosche.
The lease with the province needs to be amended to include a certain piece of land not included in the original lease but otherwise part of the campground. That’s in process. Some hazardous trees are due to be removed this summer.
Council accepted the report as information.
What to say to the minister on roads
Ric McIver, Alberta’s Minister of Transportation, has asked for some of council’s time. Although the agenda is his, council thought it best to be prepared, in case McIver asks them what’s on their minds.
“Can we bring up bridge culverts?” asked councillor Sandra Melzer.
“You bet,” said reeve Murray Kerik. “Let’s get it in front of him.”
“Highway 88,” said councillor Rosche. “There’s not even a plan of patching the holes in it. Fix the damn highway!”
CAO Allan Winarski had some advice for council on an angle to take.
“Highways in other parts of Alberta do not look like this,” he said. “It’s like being in the Third World.”
Winarski went even further: “I’m going to be candid here,” he said. “Hwy. 22 south of Calgary – it’s a little bit rough. Instantly, they’re fixing that.
Why? Because rich Calgarians have to get to their vacation properties in B.C. Maybe they need to get some cabinet ministers from outside of Calgary who know what the province looks like.”
What you need to drive home with the minister, Winarski continued, is that “this is not happening in southern Alberta. I wouldn’t want to be an MLA in this area if roads aren’t fixed.”
Ag Service Board
Councillor Melzer reported there’s a new GPS system for ASB employees to use when they are out in the field. It has a ‘panic button,’ she said, that can be activated, “if there’s a dog or a bear…. or an angry ratepayer.”
Melzer added that weed control is being taken seriously by the ASB; weed notices will be issued, she said, “and they will be dealt with.”
Athabasca Regional Waste
The fee per resident for 2020 is $145 for waste management services, councillor Esau reported. The landfill is “fairly busy,” he said, and being well-managed. Winter hours are still in effect, due to COVID.
LSL Regional Housing Authority
No cases of COVID reported in any facilities, reported councillor Pearson. The authority has spent $30,000 extra so far in COVID-related mitigation measures. It is hoping to get reimbursed for it. Restrictions on visits are being eased.
M.D. thanks doctors for years of service to the community
Council’s meeting ended (the public part of it) with a presentation of “a token of our appreciation” to Drs. John Keaveny and Terry O’Keeffe, who are retiring after around 30 years of practicing in the area.
“We’re going to miss you,” said reeve Kerik, making the presentation.
“We’ve had a great run,” said Keaveny.
O’Keeffe urged council to use its influence to lobby for improvements to the health care system in the community.
“It’s imperative patients aren’t punished because of doctors leaving the community,” she said. “Continuity of care is the single most important factor in health care.”
Keaveny and O’Keeffe have been practicing at the Swan River Health Centre for the past few years. Their retirement – expected to be in late summer or early fall – will leave that facility without a physician.
“They need a doctor out there,” said Keaveny.