Fears eased on caribou range planning

M.D. council notebook

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

M.D. of Lesser Slave River councillors were among the stakeholders at a recent meeting with the province’s point man on woodland caribou range planning. Judging by reeve Murray Kerik’s comments (prior to and in his report to council on March 13) his and others’ attitudes going in had been on the hostile side. But they found the presenter a reasonable fellow on the whole, who was not there to cram something unpalatable down their throats.

Notwithstanding that, the situation for the Slave Lake and Nipisi caribou herds is dire. Both are declining and are under 50 members. What the federal government wants is 65 per cent of habitat undisturbed. Given the amount of disturbance (which is both human and natural: i.e. fires) that could take 100 years.

“If we do nothing, they’ll slap an order on us,” said councillor Brad Pearson. “We’ve got to do something and we’re trying to minimize the impact.”

That would be the impact on industry, which appears to be councillors’ main concern. Concern for the survival of the caribou did not come into the discussion, except maybe in an implied, hypothetical sense.

As it happens, the provincial government seems to be thinking along the same lines. Councillor Robert Esau said he spoke to the facilitator after the meeting and was told that whatever solution is arrived at, it mustn’t hurt “the government purse,” or cost jobs.

“He changed my mind quite a bit,” said Kerik. “I have a little more confidence in what they’re trying to do.”

Slave Lake’s old fire hall: one option for new EMS quarters, but it has some drawbacks.


Library board – Councillor Becky Peiffer shared the good news that the mechanical lift at the Flatbush Complex is just about ready to go into service. Otherwise, the library board has taken over administration of the Slave Lake Wildfire Legacy Scholarship. Programs at the library continue to get good participation, Peiffer said. She offered the recent ‘Wine and Paint Night’ as an example; it sold out.

Session on health – Peiffer said representatives from several communities in the region met with Alberta Health Services reps in High Prairie to talk about community needs. High on the list was the difficulty in finding qualified professionals. Transportation for seniors to medical appointments in another challenge shared by all.

“Diabetes is huge,” said Peiffer. “We need to focus on awareness and prevention, not just the treatment of it.”

Health Advisory Council – Councillor Rosche had been at the latest meeting of this group, also in High Prairie. They met with AHS ambulance people and one of the things they talked about was the need for new quarters for the EMS folks in Slave Lake.

“Three options,” said Rosche. “As-is, the old fire hall (in Slave Lake) or build to lease.”

The drawback on the old fire hall option is the lack of living quarters. The EMS people currently bunk in a house across the street from the hospital.

The current quarters for EMS in Slave Lake is acknowledged as inadequate. Solving that is now “the number one priority,” Rosche said. But no decision has been made.

Legacy Centre – The AGM of the Legacy Corporation saw Tyler Warman returning as chairperson, with Kerik as vice-chair. Irene Twinn replaces Roland Twinn as the Sawridge rep on the board. Peter Haynes represents the Elks and Cleo Carifelle the Daycare Society. Kerik said efforts to recruit two public members to the board have so far produced no results. Advertising will continue.

Bookings are strong through the rest of the year, he said.

“It’s proceeding quite well,” Kerik added. “Credit to Garry Roth and Jill (Hutchings, both of the Town of Slave Lake). They’re doing a hell of a job.”

When it comes to new rest stops on Alberta highways, M.D. council is not feeling the love it would like to from the provincial government. In fact it is feeling jilted, after an announcement on new rest stops last week ignored a spot on Hwy. 2 council thinks should get one.

“Where did ours go?” asked reeve Murray Kerik, leading off the discussion. “We were told it was approved – now all of a sudden it’s off the table?”

Kerik’s dismay relates to a promise made by an Alberta Transportation official last year. Council was told a rest stop for Hwy. 2 (near the junction with Hwy. 44) had been approved, funding and all. So when Transportation Minister Brian Mason stepped up to the microphone last week and announced three new rest stops – for elsewhere – it came as a quite a disappointment.

“I don’t think we should let them get away with it,” said Kerik.

“Did we get anything in writing?” asked councillor Brad Pearson.

‘No’ was the answer to that question.

Kerik was for making some noise on the issue. Councillor Robert Esau suggested the noise should come via the Rural Municipalities Association.

It turns out CAO Allan Winarski (who was absent from last week’s meeting) may have notes on the meeting where the commitment was made. Council passed a motion directing administration to check those notes and recommend a course of action.

Development permits in 2018

2018 did not exactly see a stampede of development in the M.D. But there was a certain amount of activity. The department had that activity broken down into various categories, which Ann Holden presented to council by way of a slide show with pie graphs.

For example: 56 development permits were applied for, and 44 were issued. Residential developments accounted for 28 of those, of which six were single-family dwellings. Thirteen were for accessory buildings.

Only four of the applications were for commercial developments, and nine were for recreational. Thirteen applications were for developments of an industrial nature.

In 2018, the department received three applications for subdivision permits, which would (or could) create three new lots. One was refused, one was canceled and one comes before the Municipal Planning Commission on April 8.

Further on subdivisions, five files from previous years were completed in 2018. A dozen remain in process as of Dec. 31.

“Subdivisions are quite complex,” said Holden. “They take a lot of effort.”

Council heard there’s an emphasis these days on getting the prospective developer in for a chat at the start of the process. The idea is that if the person understands all the expectations up front, things will go smoother and quicker.

What types of development are allowed in different land-use zones continues to be matter of discussion and debate.

“We’re handcuffing ourselves,” said councillor Brad Pearson, referring to rules forbidding RVs on lots that don’t have houses on them. That would be in the Hamlet Residential district, such as Canyon Creek.

Defending the rule, reeve Kerik said, “But you might end up looking like Pigeon Lake – nothing but RVs all around; no hamlet. It’s a slippery thing to get on.”

Referring to Flatbush, councillor Esau observed: “You might have a $75,000 RV on a lot and (on the other hand) houses I wouldn’t give you $15,000 for. We have to have some flexibility, or we’re going to empty our community out. What’s needed in Flatbush is totally different than what’s needed in Canyon Creek.”

The debate could have continued at great length, but councillors agreed to leave it to the Land-Use Bylaw review discussion, coming up sometime this year.

Holden wrapped up her presentation by saying so far in 2019, the majority of development permit applications have been on the recreational side. Several of these have been from the Fawcett Lake Resort. Plus one in Old Town Slave Lake and another from Marten Beach.

Smith arena

Council picked up where it had left off at the previous meeting, discussing what to do about arena upgrades at Smith. What’s complicating the matter is what councillor Brian Rosche called “a moving target” of estimates to bring it up to code. These range from a low of $20,000 (from SHARA’s Fred Laughy) up to close to a million dollars.

“$20,000 we can work with,” said Rosche. “$800,000 to a million is a different story.”

In between those figures is another one, of around $200,000, from a consultant.

“It’s somewhere between that $20,000 and $200,000,” said Bill Klassen, the M.D.’s Director of Transportation. “If we have community involvement, we can cut costs.”

Community involvement is what Laughy offered at the March 6 meeting.

“It also comes down to the amount of risk council is willing to take,” Klassen said.

Council passed a motion to have administration look into what grants are available and what it would take to bring the arena up to code. The goal is to have it fit for use as an ice rink next year.

One thing that might help is an idea recently proposed by the Canyon Creek Recreation Association. Klassen said a rep of that organization said the ‘Zamboni’ unit could be towed around by an electric golf cart. This would eliminate the need for separate shed for the tractor. That might work in Smith too, he said.

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