M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

Sept. 9, 2020 meeting
Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Atterberg Limits, etc.
Council’s first meeting in a month kicked off with a presentation with a lot of new terminology in it. It was about something called ‘soil cement stabilization.’ Jesse Waddell of Magna Infrastructure spoke about a treatment for soil with ‘cementitious blends’ that firms it up for road use, thus reducing long-term maintenance costs. Also mentioned in the written material were ‘Atterberg Limits.’
Asked by councillor Sandra Melzer how long such a treatment would hold up, Waddell said seven to 10 years is expected.
Councillor Brad Pearson asked about the cost per kilometre, but got it in square metres instead – at $22 to $24 per.

Electoral boundaries, Round 3
Council had a detailed report on the topic of electoral district boundaries, but was apparently not in the mood to wade into it again. The issue is that the M.D.’s two divisions are pretty far from being evenly balanced, population-wise. Various remedies have been proposed to get the variance within the prescribed (by M.D. policy) 25 per cent or less. But nobody likes them. So it will be status quo for the time being.
“I’m happy with leaving things the way they are,” said councillor Sandra Melzer.
Councillor Pearson had been in favour of improving the balance, but had come around to the view that ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ However, “In future there’s room for something different,” he said.
“I agree,” said councillor Robert Esau. “It can be revisited.”
Councillor Acton noted that the M.D.’s policy will have to be changed, to make room for the greater than 25 per cent variance between the two divisions. District 1 has about 1,110 residents and District II has 1,700.

Engine retarder brakes on 88
The use of ‘jake’ brakes on Hwy. 88 just north of the town limits has been a sore point for at least one campground operator this season, not to mention the campers whose sleep has been interrupted. The M.D. had been requested to do something about it. CAO Winarski had reached out to Alberta Transportation to ask if signs could be placed further north advising truckers not to use their engine retarder brakes. This was done.
Not only that, said Winarski, he had spoken to a particular driver.
“He promised me he would not do that anymore,” he said.

Help for M.D. bylaw enforcement? Probably not
This item was added to the agenda at the request of councillor Melzer. It’s clear the M.D.’s single peace officer can’t possibly keep up with all the requests for service, patrols, traffic enforcement, paperwork, etc. etc.. Is there something the M.D. can do to ease the workload? Offer more administrative help?
Responding, Winarski did not offer much hope for improvement of the situation. Officers are expected to do their own paperwork, he said. Budgetary realities being what they are, it’s unlikely the M.D. can afford to spend more time or manpower than it already does.
“We’re going to take a $3 million hit,” he reminded council – referring (presumably) to the anticipated revenue loss from linear assessment.
“What are we supposed to do?” asked Melzer. “If you’re going to have policies, they need to be enforceable.”
“You will never have enough resources,” Winarski said. “It isn’t always that enforcement is the answer.”
Councillor Esau observed that the M.D. can provide any level of service people want – as long as they are willing to pay for it.
The item was accepted as information.

Boat launch donation
Shortly after the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire disaster, Alberta GM dealers teamed up to donate $100,000 to the community – specifically for improvements to the boat launch area on Lesser Slave River. Councillor Acton had added it to the agenda for discussion. This was after a government minister had apparently brought it up in a conversation with municipal officials.
Exactly why nothing has been done in nine years is not entirely clear. But from what Winarski told council, the main impediment seems to be jurisdiction over the provincial recreation area by the weir. The province has “walked away from the area,” he said, but hasn’t turned it over to the M.D. “Once you have a disposition, you can start spending money.”
Winarski added that Russ Jassman of the M.D. is working with Alberta Environment and Parks on the file.
Councillor Pearson suggested the regional tri-council take up the matter as something to lobby for.
Council accepted the report as information.

The pace of expenditures on various budgeted projects is picking up, Winarski reported, which is normal for this time of the fiscal year. This was reflected in the cheque registry, which took up about half of the 110-page agenda package.
“Guys are getting things done,” he said. “Things are tracking pretty good.”
On the revenue side, collection of property taxes is behind schedule. This has a lot to do with the extension of the payment deadline to the end of this month.
On another note, Winarski said the re-routing of a portion of the Old Smith Highway looks like it will have to be deferred to 2021.
“We’re working with the property owners to determine a route,” he said.

Field Services update
New Director of Field Services Ryan Tufts presented his first report for council on the state of affairs in his department. It coincided with this reporter being unable to get back into the Zoom meeting after an in camera session, so we missed the discussion. That leaves the written report in council’s agenda package, which was brief.
It contains the following:

  1. A drinking water safety plan is due for review.
  2. The bridge over the Athabasca River at Smith will be resurfaced.
  3. Work practices are being evaluated.

Boss Bridgeworks gets culvert job
A bridge culvert near Flatbush that washed out in June of 2018 should be replaced with a permanent structure this fall. Council awarded the contract to the lowest of six bidders, Boss Bridgeworks, for $387,000.
The work is expected to take place in October of this year.
According to the written report, the bridge culvert is on an unnamed tributary of French Creek, along Range Rd. 263B. Provincial funding was approved in April of 2019, but getting federal and provincial approvals took longer than expected. The budgeted amount is $300,000. The shortfall is to be made up from reserves.

Road tour, virtually
Council’s annual road tour will proceed this fall, but will be different. Due to COVID considerations, admin. will prepare a slide show, which can be presented to council via a Zoom meeting format. Council settled on Oct. 19 as the date. Councillors were asked for suggestions for spots they would like to see featured in the presentation. M.D. staff will do the same.
Councillor Esau asked field services director Ryan Tufts to give him a call the next time he’s in Flatbush, so he can show him something. There are two roads in the area, he says; one the M.D. gravels and one it ignores altogether. The one it ignores gets more traffic than the one it maintains.

Agreements on road allowances
The M.D. could use a quicker and better way, council heard, of dealing with the many requests it gets from industrial concerns and land agents “who want to construct infrastructure on, across or under a road allowance.”
For one thing, said Ryan Tufts, making the report, the M.D. is “not even recovering our costs on these.”
Proposed was switching to an ‘online portal’ for such applications, plus raising the fees.
“Makes sense to me,” said reeve Kerik.
Council passed a motion adopting a new policy on how such requests will be handled. It will deal with a revised fee schedule at another meeting.

Speed limit in Smith
The M.D. has been approached by a group of Smith residents who would like the speed limit on a street in the hamlet to be reduced. It runs by a playground and is 50 kilometres per hour. The request is that it be lowered to 30 kph – which is the normal playground zone speed in towns and cities.
The street in question is called Forestry Road and it runs by Junior Forest Wardens’ Park.
Councillors were in favour and passed a motion to grant the request. Councillor Acton asked if the M.D. could go even further and put up a playground sign or two. Council approved that too.

MLA, minister get an earful
Reeve Kerik reported on a meeting he and several councillors had with Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken. The main topic was the proposed change to linear assessment that would result in a huge revenue hit to the M.D. and others like it.
“He admitted he knew something had to change,” Kerik said. “He got our perceptions loud and clear.”
Kerik and councillor Acton also spoke to a government minister about the reduction in funding (and six-month closure) of the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation.
“She was horrified,” said Kerik. “I don’t think it was a total waste of time.”

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