The M.D. of Lesser Slave River council has been having quite a lot of meetings in camera lately. There are probably good reasons for this – or a least reasons that can be justified under Alberta FOIP rules. (That’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, if we’re not mistaken.)

Many of these meetings have to do with the bridge over the Athabasca River at Smith. Presumably the subject is progress (or lack of it) on the engineering for the new bridge. But in the absence of any public info, speculation takes over. This, depending on who is doing the speculating, can run all the way from wacky, unreasonable stuff to similarly wacky ideas at the other end of the spectrum. In between those extremes is probably some version of what is actually happening. It would be nice if someone would tell us what that is every so often.

One thing we know is that the present location of the bridge is far from ideal. This is mainly because the north bank is constantly sliding in the direction of the river. That makes for a lousy base for something in dire need of stability.

As far as we know an alternate location – up or downstream – has been recommended, so as to get out of the slide zone. But of course that ups the price considerably because it adds new road construction to the cost.

Compromises will likely be necessary to make it happen within whatever budget the province allows. One possibility is a one-lane deck vs. a two-laner. Likely everybody in their right mind wants a modern, two-lane bridge. But does the traffic justify it? And even if it does, will the province be willing to pay $80 million (or whatever it turns out to be) for a bridge that sees relatively little traffic?

Of course there’s the argument that with a better bridge traffic will increase – especially the industrial variety.

Anyway, council had yet another closed session with Associated Engineering last week on the Smith Bridge topic. What are they talking about in there?????

Just to be clear, we’re not questioning the legality of closed session discussion. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) makes it quite clear what the rules are. But broadly interpreted, they can cover just about anything.

Section 197 of the MGA says councils and council committees ‘must conduct their meetings in public, unless the matter to be discussed is within one of the exceptions….’

The exceptions are third party business interests, third party privacy, individual or public safety, law enforcement, intergovernmental relations, economic or other interests. These are often distilled and expressed as ‘land, legal and personnel.’

It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see that nearly anything could be said to fall under one of those categories.

But, says Alberta Municipal Affairs, budget deliberations, capital expenditures, sensitive local issues, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals, tax recovery matters, and budget allocations for hiring more staff should not be discussed in closed session. So there is that.

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