Floods, shortages and lots of uncertainty

Life at your municipal district lately

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The M.D. of Lesser Slave River is short a few people in the management level these days. With a month off from council meetings it would have been a good time to focus on catching up and doing some recruiting. Instead, there’s been a lot of scrambling to respond to a natural disaster in one of the M.D. hamlets.

That entails a lot of things – from setting up and manning pumps to lobbying for provincial assistance. On the latter point, Reeve Murray Kerik last week fired off a letter to Peace River-Westlock MLA Pat Rehn, urging him to lend his support to a couple of initiatives. One is for relief for flood victims under the province’s Disaster Recovery Program; the other is provincial support for Marten Beach and Eating Creek flood mitigation projects under the Alberta Community Resiliency Program.

What that shakes loose is hard to predict; M.D. CAO Allan Winarski figures the answer won’t come before the provincial budget – expected to be revealed in October.

Winarski expects that will also be the time to find out about the fate of other types of grants – including the vital (to municipalities) MSI program.

“That’s scary,” he says. “We’re really dependent on it for capital improvements.”

How the MD of LSR makes out in the new world of provincial funding for municipalities may come down to “where you live and your perceived value to the province,” Winarski says.

In the meantime, the M.D. last week waived water charges for flood victims at Marten Beach. It has also offered to remove silt if property owners can get it to their property lines.

“We just have to find a place to put the stuff!” says Winarski.

While the M.D. is working on that, cottagers are trying to organize a communal effort to move silt off their yards. Randy Elm, the president of the cottagers’ association, says the idea is to jointly hire a contractor, with everybody putting money into a pot to pay for it. If it works out, it would leave the M.D. with a huge job of removal (there must be thousands of tonnes of the stuff).

Elm says the silt smells bad, and there are fears it is contaminated.

“I hear the AEMA (Alberta Emergency Management Agency) is coming out today to do assessments,” Elm said on Aug. 8. “It might give some answers.”

Other issues

Winarski says he’s hearing of frustration about lousy Internet services in rural communities. There’s talk of a lobby for a tower at Canyon Creek, for example. And frustration on the same subject has been bubbling up from Marten Beach. That’s a federal government area of responsibility, the CAO points out, and MP Arnold Viersen is the one who should be hearing about it. The feds are “failing rural Canada” on this issue, he says.

Rural Canada is also having a hard time – as we all know – in recruiting health care professionals. The same difficulties exist in finding and keeping top-level managers for municipalities such as Lesser Slave River.

“We’ve got two vacancies (Transportation and Utilities) on our senior team,” Winarski says. “It is a challenge recruiting here.”

The day-to-day work is being done, however.

“The thing that’s saving our bacon right now is a core group that has really stepped up. I can’t really say enough about them.”

Last word goes to a major M.D. roads project – that of relocating a section of the Old Smith Highway away from a slumping area near the river. It’s been on the books for a couple of years and some provincial funding has been secured. Winarski says negotiations to acquire the land from a private owner have been going on for some time.

“We should own a piece of land shortly that will allow us to site the (road) through,” he says.

M.D. council meets this week, for the first time in almost a month.

Too much mud…. This photo gives an idea of what property owners – and the M.D. – are facing in Marten Beach.

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