May 9, 2018 meeting
M.D. council held the second ‘in the communities’ meeting in Smith on May 9, following one a month earlier in Flatbush. The idea is to make it easier for community members to attend the meetings and perhaps get their concerns on the agenda. One more is to come, in Widewater on June 27.
Rural crime down (so far)
First on the agenda was a presentation by RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans.
“Good news,” said Spaans, opening his remarks. “There’s an overall decline in criminal code files in the M.D. in the first four months of this year.”
Last year there were 61 such files January through April. This year – 36. The biggest drop was in a category called ‘personal crimes,’ which includes assaults and threats. However, vehicle theft remains a problem.
“Reduce opportunity,” Spaans advised. In other words, don’t make it easy for thieves to swipe your truck or your ATV.
The theft of copper wire has been prominent, particularly from industrial sites. Spaans said a certain company with operations around Canyon Creek has been hit “almost weekly,” by such thefts, with losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Other news from the rural side of policing: “a huge spike in traffic collisions,” Spaans said, mostly involving animals.
Now is the time of year the RCMP starts to hear about seasonal cabins being broken into over the off-season.
“There was one last night,” he said. “Seventy-thousand dollars’ worth of property taken.”
Spaans was asked if he would support the idea of an RCMP officer living in Smith. He would, he said, but the days of the RCMP telling its members where they should live are long gone.
Are you understaffed? asked councillor Jeff Commins, adding he’d heard of the RCMP province-wide being something like 200 bodies short. Not here, said Spaans.
“We have all positions filled (not counting one maternity leave). Knock on wood. Don’t tell anybody!”
Aspen View looks for help in saving rural schools
Saving small rural schools is Aspen View School Division’s mission and it wants municipal help in lobbying for a different funding model. The reality, as presented by superintendent Mark Francis, is quite stark.
“We’ve cut everything we can to keep the same number of teachers and to keep small schools open,” he said. “We need more people saying we need more support for rural schools.”
Francis displayed graphs showing the trends. They don’t look good. Aspen View’s enrollment has dropped by about 750 in the past dozen years or so. That decline is reflected in the numbers at Smith School – also down. Under the per-student model of funding, the money the school division gets from the province keeps going down, but the cost of running the schools doesn’t. We have the same number of teachers, the same number of buses running the same number of kilometres, the same cost (or higher) of heating buildings and so on, said Francis. Something has to give.
“If the funding formula doesn’t change,” he said. “We’re looking at amalgamation of school divisions and closure of rural schools.”
Francis urged the M.D. to get on the lobbying bandwagon.
“It would make a huge difference to have your voice with our voice,” he said.
Changing the funding formula for rural schools is one thing. Aspen View is also in favour of reducing the cost of education by putting all separate and public schools under a single administration. It’s been done in St. Paul, he said, and seems to work well.
Council passed a motion by councillor Brian Rosche to “bring the issue forward to the next RMA (meeting of the Rural Municipalities Association).”
“What can we do?” asked a community member.
“Write letters to the minister,” suggested Aspen View board chair Dennis MacNeil. “And not a form letter.”
Dust control (or the lack of it)
A couple of members in the gallery raised the issue of dust control, or the lack of it. One wanted the M.D. to use oil instead of calcium. Not allowed to use oil so close to the river, said M.D. Director of Transportation Bill Klassen. Calcium is as bad or worse, was the reply from the gallery.
“If you don’t apply it properly, you might as well not do it.”
Klassen said an oil company that uses the road is due to treat it “hopefully in the next few days.”
They watered it in the morning, said one person. By the afternoon it was as dusty as ever.
Smith Community Development Council has plans
Nancy Sand of the Smith CDC updated council on what that group has done and hopes to do, along with ‘obstacles,’ and ‘concerns.’
In the accomplishments category, Sand listed a Christmas light-up, an annual community clean-up, street light banners, a day park, flower planters, a ‘welcome’ sign, a website and support of local businesses. Things the group would like to do – or help to get done – are more seniors’ housing, a proper boat launch, improvements to the beach front at Fawcett Lake, former Forestry lots cleaned up and put on the market, better enforcement of bylaws, a community events coordinator and marketing of the community for economic development purposes.
Obstacles, Sand continued, include volunteer burnout, fewer grants and not as much support from municipal partners as the group would like.
Under ‘concerns,’ she listed the snail’s pace (not her words) of M.D. planning, the issue of farmland mill rates (as raised at a recent meeting by councillor Brad Pearson) and rural road maintenance.
“We want to do more,” said Sand. “We need your help.”
The mention of farmland mill rates drew a comment from the gallery:
“I read in the paper Brad wants farm mill rates the same as Westlock and Barrhead. Maybe we should put mill rates up around the lakes; then maybe we’d get somewhere.”
Petra de Vaan, speaking on behalf of the SCDC, presented an idea about having more seniors’ housing, located in the centre of the hamlet. It would help people stay in the community, she said, and perhaps bring some back who would like to return.
“Is there a possibility? Are you willing to help?”
Councillor Pearson, who sits on the board of the regional housing authority, suggested she contact SLRHA manager Lindsay Pratt. If he doesn’t bring it forward to the board, “I will,” he said.
Councillor Commins, who also sits on that board, cautioned that “there is no public money available at all right now. Unless there’s a real need I don’t see how.”
Q & A
A scheduled half hour for questions from members of the public turned out to be quite a bit livelier than the one held in Flatbush in April. Leading it off was former councillor Darren Fulmore, asking a question on behalf of Slave Lake Pulp. The mill is apparently not happy that a road-use bond it hands over to the M.D. has been raised from $15,000 to $25,000. Given that SLP has been “a good corporate citizen,” and “has always fixed the road,” when their trucks have damaged it, could it be put back to $15,000?
Explaining the rationale for the higher bond rate, M.D. Director of Transportation Bill Klassen said it’s based on a sliding scale. If the haul route in question is over 30 kilometres, the rate jumps by $10,000. And it is not quite the case that the company always fixes damage. He gave as an example the pounding the West Fawcett Road took in 2017 by log hauling, leaving over $300,000 in damages.
“Fifteen thousand doesn’t go very far,” he said.
Q: When is the M.D. going to pull gravel out of the ditches and get it back where it belongs?
A: Shoulder pulls happen annually, said Klassen. Ditch pulls depending on need and funds.
Q: Can people pump water out of low-lying areas into M.D. ditches?
A: We don’t have any bylaws against it, said Klassen.
This drew a remark from councillor Sandra Melzer. We need clarity on that, she said.
Wetland policy is a quagmire, said Klassen (or words to that effect). “It may become more of a problem for the person asking the question.”
“Finish the job!” said councillor Robert Esau, as he has said many times, referring to drainage improvements in the Flatbush area that solve a problem in once place, only to create one on another place.
Eventually water has to go over somebody’s land, said Klassen
Melzer made a motion to have administration look into what property owners can legally do, as far as moving water off their land.
The Smith Hondo Association of Recreation and Agriculture president Fred Laughy had a bit more information on the issues he’d raised before council a month earlier. As far as having wooden boards and such in the arena, he’d been told, “it’s no issue as long as it is safe.”
“That’s sure not what we were told in Canyon,” said reeve Murray Kerik.
“It was a fire code violation,” said Pearson.
“That’s exactly what it was,” said Klassen.
Laughy said he’d been told by a couple of reliable sources that it isn’t.
Another SHARA issue is improvements to the boat launch by the Athabasca bridge. SHARA is hoping the M.D. can help SHARA get permission from the concerned authorities to get the work done. Klassen said Alberta Environment has been advised and “wants to talk about a number of issues and that’s one of them.”
Having a reliable launch is important for search and rescue purposes, Laughy said. He added that if the M.D. is meeting with Environment, “can you talk about west-end Fawcett Lake access?”
Beach at Canyon Creek
Pearson had added this item to the agenda. He asked his colleagues to support the idea of cleaning up the small public beach at Canyon Creek. What with willows and grass, “there’s hardly any public beach at all.”
A separate but related issue is the neighbouring ‘private’ beach. Winarski said a surveying company has been engaged “to determine where private land ends and the beach begins.”
Also separate but related: infrastructure left in the water from the days when what is now the Canyon Creek Hotel was a federal fish hatchery. It’s high time the federal government removed it, he said, mentioning “creosoted timbers.”
Species at risk
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is reaching out to its members in caribou country, asking them to support a lobby effort by Mackenzie County. The county is urging the federal government to involve affected municipalities in discussions on caribou conservation.
Council passed a Melzer motion to provide a letter of endorsement.
Councillor Rosche then made a motion to send a letter urging the federal government – if it wants to save the woodland caribou – to “put a hunting ban on caribou by Indigenous people.”
Council passed the motion.
Chamber of Commerce
Reporting on the latest meeting of the Slave Lake & District Chamber of Commerce, Reeve Kerik said the group is having “a hard time with volunteers for Riverboat Daze.” Sponsors are needed for the sandcastle competition, and for some reason the Chamber will not be getting the $10,000 from the midway it is accustomed to getting.
Also learned at the meeting: the Legacy Centre has lowered its rental prices.
Councillor Peiffer reported that the regional library board elected a new chair – Angela Wright. The Flatbush library is now advertised on a highway sign. The Scouts helped clean up the Smith library, where librarian Ruth Reay “needs more money.”
Movie night at the Smith library has been successful.