M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council Notebook

Feb. 10, 2021 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Assistance Board helps out

Council started out by convening as the Community Assistance Board, chaired by Brad Pearson. The CAB had just one request for funding to deal with. It was from the Chisholm Community Club for $1,400, to help it with the cost of operating the community hall.

According to the report from Russ Jassman, the group has applied in past years, but not in 2020.

Council was quick to approve the request.

The money comes out of the 2021 M.D. budget, which has not been formally approved. What has been approved is an interim budget amounting to 40 per cent of the 2020 budget. This will allow the M.D. to carry on business in the early part of the year until the 2021 document is formally approved. For the past few years, the CAB has received $40,000 each year in the M.D. budget.

CAO report

New chief administrative officer Barb Miller presented her ‘annual’ report to council. Seeing as she was only on the job in 2020 for 17 days, it was a short one.

“I’m becoming familiar with my surroundings,” she said.

Miller received some encouraging remarks from councillors, including Robert Esau.

“I’m very glad you accepted the position of CAO,” he said.

Added councillor Brad Pearson: “Keep up the good work!”

Peace officer wraps up 2020

M.D. peace officer Paul Mulholland, in his annual report, said there were 112 complaints during the course of the year, “ranging from unsightly properties, abandoned vehicles, traffic concerns within hamlets, noise and animal complaints.”

In addition to that, 200 traffic stops were conducted and 110 violation tickets issued. The face value of the tickets totaled $33,618.

Mulholland was asked if he has a radar gun. He does, and he knows how and where to use it.

“It’s nothing for me to write (tickets for) double the speed limit,” he said. “I can write 50 over in a 50 zone. People like to fly.”

One councillor said he’d been hearing from people in Canyon Creek who don’t feel safe these days, due to a drug bust in that community. It’s not an issue for a bylaw officer, but a presence in a community can provide a sense of security. Mulholland agreed.

“I’m not RCMP and I don’t want to be,” he said. “But there’s a value to flying the colours.”

Councillor Pearson liked the sound of that.

“It makes the community feel a little safer,” he said.

Corporate services

Council received a report on a new category of M.D. administration called ‘corporate services.’ It consisted of three parts – health & safety, human resources and information technology. Lots has been going on in all three areas – all of it made more interesting and probably more complicated and difficult by COVID.

Info-tech – The IT portion sparked quite a lot of discussion on the same topic that came up at the last council meeting: lousy internet service in rural communities. According to IT person Brian MacPherson, “it’s going to take time and funding.”
A separate but related issue is the festering one about the M.D.’s rural address system not working well for emergency services when they rely on the internet to guide them to a rural property. Councillor Robert Esau spoke about an incident in the Flatbush area, where the ambulance was dispatched to somewhere in the Whitecourt area.

Safety – On the safety side of things, Angeline Blackmore spoke about the big challenges to training due to COVID. The experience hasn’t been entirely negative.
“COVID opened up a new world to us of online training,” she said.
Blackmore’s report included numbers of accidents and near misses in 2020. Councillor Pearson said 13 near misses didn’t sound like nearly enough. He suspects they aren’t being reported and added there is value in doing it.
“I’d like to see that number go up,” he said.

HR – On the HR front, Nicole Archer went over the numbers of people lost and gained during the year. There was a fair amount of turnover, including in three of the top management positions. Two of those (CAO and director of field services) have been filled. Director of finance is still vacant.

No shortage of files

In his brief report on 2020, director of field services Ryan Tufts presented a clever image to council that gave a pretty good idea of at least the volume of paperwork involved in his job. It’s a photo of his office, which is crammed with stacks of boxes and files. It looks chaotic, but Tufts said it’s actually pretty well organized. The picture has arrows pointing at eight of the stacks with tags in the margins identifying them. ‘Marten Beach,’ and ‘Bridge Files,’ for example, along with ‘Road Studies,’ Regulations and Bylaws,‘ and ‘Old Smith Highway (a very tall stack). Not to mention the stacks on Southshore Sewer, Canyon Creek Water Treatment Plant and Smith and Flatbush Water works.

It was worth at least a thousand words, and Tufts didn’t waste many on details. He did say, “I love that this job is so diverse.”

Tufts’ report included an excerpt from a 1985 document called ‘Role of the Engineer in Rural Municipalities.’ Its concluding bit says engineers need to be “comfortable with frozen mud on their boots.”

Said councillor Pearson: “We should have supplied you with hip waders.”

How things stack up in the office of the director of field services.

Area structure plans tossed

Council held the required public hearings for the bylaws that will repeal eight area structure plans (ASP). Nobody had anything to say on any of them, one way or the other.

As reported earlier, these planning documents – some of them quite old – are seen as an impediment for what the M.D. is attempting to do in revamping the land-use bylaw (LUB).

An example of an ASP that is serving no useful purpose is the one for Smith. Decades old, it was created at a time when all kinds of growth was imagined for the hamlet. In fact, said consultant Nick Pryce, none has happened.

“It’s not relevant.”

Councillor Robert Esau asked if the repeal of the ASPs before the new LUB is enacted leaves a void.

“The void is very small,” said Pryce. “And it’s not really inhibiting anything.”

Property development activity in 2020

Another of the annual reports for council was on development. Sixty-three permits were issued by the M.D. last year, for a total value of $35,685,000. The big one in there was the industrial category, at $30 million. Residential permits numbered 41, at a value of $4.5 million.

The M.D. received five applications for land subdivision in 2020.

A colourful pie chart in council’s agenda package shows Canyon Creek had the most development activity of any community in the M.D. in 2020, grabbing 22 per cent of the total. Poplar Lane was next at 16 per cent, followed by Fawcett Lake (14), Wagner (8), Widewater, Bayer Rd. and Flatbush (six per cent apiece) and Marten Beach and Hondo (five per cent).

Ag Service Board

Rural services director Barry Kolenosky’s report included a recap on ASB accomplishments in 2020. For example, 275 miles of ditches were treated for weeds. Weed inspectors did 381 inspections and issued five notices.
Inspections were also done for clubroot of canola, but none was found!

Facilities, etc.

Kolenosky also reported on various upgrades and repairs at M.D. community facilities. Looking forward, it projects a “transitional operation plan for the Canyon Creek Marina,” an evaluation of upgrades to the Slave Lake boat launch and various other improvements to facilities and continued work with community groups.

Flood trailers

Reeve Murray Kerik brought back news of something called a ‘flood trailer’ from a recent meeting of the Northern Alberta Elected Leaders (NAEL) group. Apparently the province has provided two or three of these units, which contain (possibly among other things) ready-to-use tiger dams. The talk at the NAEL meeting was that it would be handy to have one of the trailers stationed in the north. Somebody had asked somebody about it, and the answer was ‘no,’ and the impression given that ‘the important floods are in the south.’

Naturally, this did not go over well with northern leaders.

“So the war is on,” said Kerik. “They may be asking for a letter of support.”

Airport alternative

Another interesting tidbit from the NAEL meeting had to do with the airport at Peace River. It has been taken over by five business people, Kerik said. The municipality committed to supporting the project for its first two years, and for the remaining eight years of the term, the new owners are on their own, financially. If it works, Kerik said, he’d be interested in seeing what the model is.

Dan Williams

As promised, Peace River MLA is stepping in to offer support for the Lesser Slave Lake riding, following the expulsion of MLA Pat Rehn from the UCP caucus. Williams met with M.D. council and apparently made a good impression.

“He’s not saying he will take over as our MLA,” said reeve Kerik. “Just be a conduit for us to the UCP. The UCP would like to have a few wins in this area.”

The proof, of course, will be in the pudding – as expressed by councillor Darcie Acton.

“I will be looking forward to the follow-up that may be coming,” she said.

Pat Rehn

Council had also met with Lesser Slave MLA Pat Rehn. Sounding a tad skeptical, Kerik said Rehn talked about “all the wonderful things he can do for us now that he’s not affiliated with a political party.”

On the other hand, Kerik said interim Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver told the M.D. Rehn had “been in his office two or three times pushing for action on Marten Beach.”

Doctors short in HP and Wab

Reporting on the latest meeting of the tri-council health committee, councillor Acton said doctors from Slave Lake have been pinch-hitting in Wabasca and High Prairie, due to gaps in physician coverage in those communities. It might be an opportunity, she added, to make the case for a 10th physician in Slave Lake.

‘Sharp increase’

Acton also reported “a sharp increase in mental health issues,” including a “notable increase in people needing intervention because of suicidal tendencies.” It is unfortunate, she said, “but not unexpected.”

Airport services commission

Councillor Acton started off her report by saying “this was the first time in a long time we didn’t have to have an in camera legal update.” She didn’t elaborate, but it likely referred to the issues surrounding the decision to fence in the entire airport property.

Speaking of that fence, it’s a good thing it wasn’t done in 2020, said councillor Esau, or the west end of it probably would have washed away. What to do to prevent further erosion is being studied.

“Dump some big rocks there,” said councillor Pearson. “That seems to be the only thing that works around here.”

Transitional housing

Councillor Acton filled council in on a recent meeting of people interested in getting the ‘Housing First’ program off the ground in Slave Lake. It is described as ‘transitional housing’ for people experiencing homelessness. Facilitating the meeting was someone from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which is apparently interested in helping.

At the forefront of the effort is the executive director of the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, Barb Courtorielle. Acton listed some of the services the Friendship Centre is providing, with the emergency shelter on top of everything else. She suggested council invited Courtorielle in to make a presentation.

“It doesn’t hurt to listen,” said reeve Kerik.

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