M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

May 22, 2019 meeting in Smith
Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Aspenview

Council’s first business at its meeting in Smith on May 22 was to hear from Aspenview School Division. Superintendent Neil O’Shea spoke about the need to work together to ensure the survival of rural schools – Smith School in particular – and Smith School Principal Caitlynn Chernish reported on some of the highlights from her school over the past year or so.

O’Shea urged the M.D. to help lobby for a different funding model for schools. The ‘per-student’ model long in use hurts small rural schools and makes them that much harder to maintain, he said.

“If we continue on the same formula, eventually rural schools will close,” he predicted.

On the other hand, O’Shea assured council Aspenview has no notion of closing Smith School. Its 80 students is “a nice, solid number,” he said.

Chernish talked about some of the fun activities at the school. These include a robotics camp, ‘Hockey Hooky,’ ski trips, basketball teams (first in a long time), fishing, carving, leadership and more.

Nancy Sand, the west end trustee on the Aspenview board, told council, “We’re really proud of the work Caitlynn is doing in the school.”

Traildusters gates

Devin Attfield and Jan Bosma of the Smith Traildusters asked for the M.D.’s blessing to install an emergency access gate on the track at the Traildusters grounds. They said the ambulance people have noted the single access is not good from a safety point of view. Given that the club is re-doing the outer fence around the track in stages, it would be a good time to plan for a gate. A bit of gravel work would also be required, to allow easy access/egress for an ambulance.

Attfield also spoke about a plan to adjust the track where it goes out of the arena area, so as to make the first turn less of a sharp one. Chuckwagon and chariot racers have pointed out that corner is not to their liking, he said, and would be more willing to attend events if it were improved.

Council was favourable to both suggestions but made no formal decision.

Inaction on arena

Fred Laughy of SHARA was next. What’s up with a decision on arena upgrades, was his question. Time is dragging on and another season of skating is in jeopardy.

“We need answers,” he said. “It’s getting very frustrating.”

The answers weren’t what he wanted to hear: i.e. – the M.D. is still waiting on the engineering firm to provide some firm figures. Laughy said SHARA has volunteers and sponsors lined up, and wants to get on with the job of upgrading the arena so it can be used in winter for skating/hockey.

Fire hall issues

Attfield was back up with a request for the M.D. to do some fixing at the fire hall. Exactly what he was recommending wasn’t clear from what he said, but it had something to do with insects on the floor of the building. Also a pothole out front. We need a new fire hall or fix up the existing one, he suggested.

Washboard

Attfield’s third item was the condition of the Old Smith Highway. Washboard is bad, he said. More attention from a grader and a water truck would be nice.

Boat launch

Laughy was back up next, asking what the M.D.’s plans are with regard to improving the boat launch at Smith. CAO Allan Winarski said the matter “is alive. It’s just a question of where.” That suggests another location is under consideration, but Winarski declined to elaborate. He did say the existing launch site will “never be a tourist boat launch.”

Councillors made no decision on the matter, but a couple of them did take the opportunity to lament the cost of getting things done. Councillor Esau referred to an engineering study he’d heard of costing $156,000.

“Why does it need to be engineered every time?” he said.

Councillor Sandra Melzer noted the new government has a minister of red tape reduction.

“I want to speak to that man!” she said.

Broken Paddle

The last question from the floor came from a fellow doing a subdivision at Broken Paddle Resort on Fawcett Lake. He was frustrated, he said, by the time and expense involved in getting documents signed off by the M.D.

“Nobody answers,” he said. “Nobody calls me back.”

Winarski assured him the papers have been signed.

“You’re not going to have a problem,” he said.

Flood mitigation: staying in the game

Council accepted a recommendation to award a flood mitigation study to the firm Golder & Associates. The work will be for Marten Beach and Eating Creek.

Golder was the lowest of three bidders on the short list (from an initial field of eight), by quite a bit. Its price was $69,000. The other two came in at $114,000 and $197,000 (SNC Lavalin).

The M.D. had budgeted $50,000 for the job. Where’s the extra $19,000 going to come from? asked councillor Brian Rosche.

Probably from reserves, was the answer. Winarski pointed out that the M.D. had applied before for a flood mitigation grant and been turned down because it didn’t have a professional study of the situation. Hence the decision this time to bite the bullet and hire somebody to lay the groundwork for what is hoped to be a successful pitch for a grant to actually do some mitigation work.

“It’s like playing poker,” he said. “This is how much money you need to stay in the game.”

Winarski added the reason Golder’s price was lower was probably because it is already employed in the area doing a flood study on Sawridge Creek.

Council passed the motion by a 5 – 1 vote, with Sandra Melzer opposed.

Southshore sewer pumps

Councillor Brad Pearson’s contribution to the agenda was about the M.D.’s model for replacing grinder pumps for sewer on the southshore. It’s onerous, expensive and unnecessarily so, was his contention.

How it works now, Pearson said, is if a pump fails, the M.D. replaces it with a reconditioned one and ships the bad one to Edmonton to be refurbished. This can entail all sorts of work that isn’t really necessary. How about enabling the property owners to do their own repairs if they want to? They wouldn’t get the one-year warrantee on the reconditioned model, but they’d be able to keep it working and avoid the $2,800 bill for the replacement unit.

“Sell me the bearings and I’ll do it myself,” he said.

It may simply come down to availability of parts.

“We can make an inquiry,” said Winarski.

Random camping headaches

Complaints have come in to the M.D. about noisy and destructive and even dangerous behaviour by campers at the Pembina River Bridge site on Athabina Rd. near Flatbush. The May long weekend was a particularly bad incident, council heard, with people tearing around on vehicles, making holes in the road, making a mess and upsetting the neighbours. Winarski read a letter to the M.D. from a nearby resident, who urged the M.D. to do something.

Police were called in this incident, but did not show up.

The suggestion is to remove the approach and close the site.

Reeve Kerik seemed to be leaning in favour of that solution. Councillor Esau was not.

“I am against closing that area down,” he said. “I am against punishing good, law-abiding people for a few who aren’t law-abiding.”

Esau added that if provincial laws were broken, the police should deal with it.

Council decided to send letters to the appropriate authorities.

Helping evacuees

Winarski informed council that the M.D. has offered to help the Town of Slave Lake in its efforts to look after evacuated people from High Level. He asked for council’s blessing and got it.

Ag Service Board business plan

Ag fieldman Barry Kolenosky presented the five-year business plan for the M.D.’s Ag Service Board. It stressed the ASB’s continuing efforts to combat weeds and various agricultural pests. One positive note in that regard is zero clubroot of canola was found in 2018.

Educating producers (and others) is an ongoing effort of the ASB. Trends, new technologies and such are and will be part of what the ASB conveys to residents. Speaking of technology, one thing that’s out there is field analysis via satellite! Another thing showing up on the scene is spot-spraying by drone.

Kolenosky also said rural folks need to tell their own stories, so as to combat urban misconceptions about what goes on in farming country.

Kolenosky was asked what sort of turnout there was for a couple of info sessions on raising chickens. About 20 showed up in Flatbush and 15 in Widewater – the opposite of what he expected.

Barry Kolenosky

Partnership in weed control

Council approved a slightly amended version of the M.D.’s Weed Control Partnership Policy. This is a policy that sets up the M.D. and property owners as partners in controlling noxious and prohibited weeds. It involves “cooperation, extension, demonstration and rebates,” and has apparently been quite successful. Not only that, it has been picked up and used by many other municipalities in the province.

“Russ Jassman should get a lot of credit,” said councillor Esau.

Russ Jassman

Website lagging

Councillor Brad Pearson pointed out that the M.D. website isn’t keeping up when it comes to breaking news. Recent breaking news about wildfires in the area was showing up on the Town of Slave Lake website quite quickly, Pearson said, but when he looked for updates on the MD of LSR website, he couldn’t find what he was looking for.

“Maybe it’s buried somewhere,” he said, “but you have to work to get it.”

No thanks to calcium

Council acceded to a request from a majority of residents on one street to not have calcium applied for dust control purposes. The street is Willow Lane, in the Poplar Lane area. Four of the five residents there signed the letter asking the M.D. to cancel the dust control.

“The calcium, or other material, gets tracked into our driveways, garages, houses and property with unwanted results,” the letter said. “It is dirty and harms our vehicles and property. After a rain the (it) runs off the road surface and into the adjoining properties and kills vegetation.”

Councillor Brian Rosche was all for it.

“I don’t want calcium on roads I drive on either,” he said. “I’d sooner have dust than calcium.”

Nine Mile Bridge

Councillor Rosche, noting that the Nine Mile Creek Bridge on Hwy. 2 is due for some work this summer, suggested increased maintenance for Southshore Drive might be in order. He predicted as much as three times the normal traffic on the M.D. road, with delays expected on the highway.

Full court press

Something new could be coming down the road on roads, Winarski told council. Nothing concrete has developed yet, but the Rural Municipalities Association (RMA) is warning its members to be prepared for a push for freer use of M.D. roads for energy industry haulers. There was apparently an election promise to make things less restrictive in that area for that industry. So if M.D. roads get destroyed, who is going to pay for them? “We are!” said Winarski.

Meanwhile, the RMA is being encouraged to work with energy companies on “property tax solutions,” Winarski said.

“It’s a full court press,” he said. “So we’ve got some challenges ahead of us.”

“They’ve (energy companies) got some points,” said councillor Pearson. “They pay the bills.”

“I think we have to fight for our autonomy,” said reeve Kerik.

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