Top 22 stories of 2011
1. Darcy Davis wins PC vote
NOV. 27: The former chair of the Alberta Beef Producers will carry the PC Party banner for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in the next provincial election. Acme-area producer rep Darcy Davis scored a decisive win Saturday night at the Didsbury Multiplex in a competitive race with former Mountain View County reeve Al Kemmere.
Davis finished on top after the first count of the ballots with 515 votes compared to Kemmere’s 424 and Carstairs accountant William Stevenson’s 216. After Stevenson’s second-choice votes were counted, Davis cruised ahead to win the contest with 593 votes compared to Kemmere’s 457.
“Davis is the winner with 55.9 per cent of the vote,” nomination chair Pat James announced to the crowd of candidate supporters who stayed until after 10 p.m. to hear the results.
“It’s such an honour and it’s so humbling at the same time,” Davis, 50, told the applauding crowd after Stevenson and Kemmere had made brief speeches thanking their campaign teams.
Davis thanked the two candidates, as well as their wives Kathy Kemmere and Bev Stevenson, before calling his “better half” Nora up to the stage. He also thanked retiring MLA Richard Marz and paid tribute to “two people who couldn’t be here” – his late father and his father-in-law Joe McCool, who urged Davis to run for the nomination before he died in August.
“I’m gonna work my butt off,” Davis pledged. “We gotta move things forward – we can’t be about just one issue or one area.”
“I think Darcy is going to be a good leader for us,” Kemmere said afterwards, adding that he hoped to be part of Davis’s campaign team.
2. Tornadoes touch down in county 'triangle'
JULY 12: Severe weather, including supercell storms and up to three tornadoes, pounded parts of Mountain View County and Red Deer County last week. The high-impact weather conditions left their mark, uprooting and tossing trees at nearby buildings. There were also reports of tennis-ball-sized hail falling 10 km east of Sundre.
The storms developed in the Sundre area, prior to rumbling eastward towards Olds and north towards Innisfail on the evening of July 7, said Dan Kulak, meteorologist for Environment Canada. “We’re thinking right now that at least three (tornadoes) touched down in and around the Sundre area,” Kulak said. “Certainly, there was a lot of weather in that triangle between Sundre, Olds and Innisfail.”
Dean McBride, head golf pro at Coyote Creek golf course southwest of Sundre, said the looming storm created a hectic two-hour frenzy. “It sure was intense for a while,” McBride said.
During the storm a decision was made to evacuate the club staff to a maintenance building. “We all headed down to the building because we thought the tornado was going to hit here; it was spinning right above us.”
Bowden area resident Sherry Jones said she was conflicted on whether or not to run.
“It looked like a giant mushroom,” Jones said of the cloud not far from her home, located on Rge. Rd. 15. “It was definitely going circular. That’s when I knew I was in trouble.”
Soon powerful winds sent debris smacking against the side of her house and the walls began to shake.
As Jones took cover, she continued to hear and feel the effects of the storm. “Whatever it was, charged over the house and it literally sounded like a freight train,” Jones said, adding that the noise was “deafening.”
When it was finally over, Jones surveyed the destruction.
“It looked like a war zone,” she said. “Trees were ripped out of the ground everywhere.”
About one dozen of the property’s trees, and a dozen more in its windbreak, were destroyed. A few of the smaller trees were tossed by the storm onto the roofs of Jones’s barn and out buildings.
The storm also took its toll on an Innisfail-area campground.
At Kelly’s Campground, located on Little Red Deer Road, the storm uprooted trees as tall as 40 feet and flung them on top of trailers. Campers were advised to leave, but about 13 were on site when the storm ripped through. There were no reported injuries.
Environment Canada received reports of three tornadoes in the region between 4 and 8 p.m.
One was spotted 10 miles northwest of Bergen, another was reported at a campground 15 km west of Innisfail near Rge. Rd. 21 and Twp. Rd. 354, and a third was spotted about 15 km north of Olds on Rge. Rd. 20.
The tornadoes that touched down didn’t last long, with a lifespan ranging from seconds to a few minutes, meteorologist Dan Kulak said.
To that end, Kulak suspects the west of Innisfail and north of Olds reports could have in fact been the same tornadoes.
One report noted tennis-ball-sized hail was pelting an area 10 km east of Sundre around 6 p.m.
The supercells that generate severe weather phenomena like tornadoes require a significant amount of wind sheer, moisture, and instability, among other things, said Kulak, adding that Thursday’s conditions were just right.
“The moisture is like gasoline,” he said. “You have a trigger mechanism, which in our case could be a jet stream or a number of other factors, and then the wind sheer.”
“At the end of the day, it was a severe weather day in Alberta. One of the prime zones for severe weather in Alberta is that area – Sundre, Red Deer, Olds – and it lived up to its reputation.”
3. Paddy steps down as reeve
OCT. 11: Choking back sobs, Reeve Paddy Munro dropped a bombshell at the end of last Wednesday’s council meeting.
“It is with great regret that I have to announce my resignation as reeve of Mountain View County,” he said to an empty public gallery.
“Due to personal health concerns I believe I can no longer adequately fulfil the duties as required as reeve and the time demands of the position. I will be remaining at the council table as the Div. 6 councillor and look forward to supporting the new reeve.”
His voice breaking up, Munro called for a recess and CAO Tony Martens announced that deputy reeve Bruce Beattie would take over the position until council’s organizational meeting in two weeks, when council would elect a reeve and deputy reeve for the next year.
Councillors and staff stood up and applauded Munro, thanking him for his dedication and leadership during the last 11 months, and in an emotion-charged exchange he shook hands with each person present, embracing a tearful Div. 2 Coun. Patrica McKean.
Munro, 59, told reporters outside the council chambers that he had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a common but serious abnormal heart rhythm. He is being treated with drugs for the condition and underwent a cardioversion procedure in July.
“It’s a process where they put you to sleep, they stop your heart and then they give you an electric shock to bring it back to regular rhythm. And it worked. But within the last few weeks I started to go out of sequence again.”
He decided to step down as reeve, he said, because “this job demands performance. I’m like the all-in kind of guy. If I’m doing something I want to give it my best shot and I will not compromise on quality. I just happen to be not up to physical strength to do that right now.”
Munro said he was hopeful that he will regain his health and was full of praise for the quality of medical treatment he has received.
“I’m working with a very good family doctor in Olds and a great cardiologist in Red Deer and I’m hoping that we go to the next level, which is a treatment where they give you a defibrillator and a pacemaker and I just go electronic.
“I’m just hoping that as I’m working with them and that happens, I’ll be back.”
4. Beattie named reeve
OCT. 25: Now it’s really official. After serving two weeks as reeve of Mountain View County following the resignation of Paddy Munro, Bruce Beattie was formally elected to the position Wednesday at council’s organizational meeting.
Nominated by Div. 7 Coun. Al Kemmere, who preceded Munro for a six-year stint as head of council, Beattie’s selection was uncontested and unanimous.
Div. 2 Coun. Trish McKean was nominated by Munro (Div. 6) to replace Beattie in the deputy reeve position – and again it was by unanimous acclamation.
At the end of the council meeting Beattie (Div. 4) expressed his gratitude in a low-key statement to fellow councillors. “Thanks for your support,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to working with all of you.”
In an interview with the Gazette, Beattie said the direction of council is not going to change under his leadership.
“I see my job as representing the wishes of the seven of us,” Beattie, 64, said. “It’s not my goal to push my own agenda – I didn’t come in with an agenda.”
Beattie did, however, identify several priorities for the coming year and one of these is “sitting down with all the towns and getting things on a good footing.”
5. Horse killing charges dropped
MAY 17: Jason Nixon, a Sundre-area man accused and then cleared of shooting a pregnant feral horse near Mountain Aire Lodge two years ago, says he would like to see a review of the way RCMP officers conducted the case.
“I think the police should definitely be looking into what mistakes may have been made by their departments to make sure that they don’t repeat them,” said Nixon.
Nixon, Gary Cape, Earl Anderson and a 14-year-old boy were all charged in early 2010 with unlawfully killing a horse.
The horse’s carcass was found in a roadside ditch in the fall of 2009. Police recommended charges be laid against the accused after an acquaintance of the men came forward and said he saw the accused shoot the animal, said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Patrick Webb.
The accused’s trial in Calgary provincial court was already underway when the charges were withdrawn on April 27. At the time the Crown said the charges were dropped after four hunters came forward and said they had seen the horse in question and that it had died of natural causes or by accident.
When police recovered the horse’s body it was too badly decomposed to determine the exact cause of death.
Bob Henderson, president of the Olds-based Wild Horses of Alberta Society, says soon after the charges were laid the informant made claim on a $25,000 reward being offered by the society for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for killing the pregnant mare.
Webb said the informant has not withdrawn his accusations.
“What we have is a statement from an individual that is different from what the accused has said. I’ve seen nothing that he has recanted that at all,” said Webb.
For his part, Nixon says the informant lied and should be charged with obstruction.
“Having him charged would be very important to us,” said Nixon. “The police need to send a message that making up a story to receive reward money will not be tolerated. Forget about the consequences to us, what are the consequences to the taxpayers?
“It has cost an enormous amount for the legal system to work for a year and the police investigation all because someone is lying to the police.”
Nixon, who lives in the Bearberry area, says the police need to review their investigative techniques when it comes to informants.
“I think the police officers who led this investigation had the blinders on and this comes down to our word versus one person’s word and no other evidence,” said Nixon.
“When there is reward money being offered, I think there should always be extra diligence, when there is only verbal testimony and no other evidence.”
Nixon says he has consulted his lawyer about possible legal action against the RCMP.
“Why are we considering our options?” he said. “Well the first thing is when you wrongfully accuse someone, there are a lot of financial, legal costs. I’ve spent about $100,000, and I had to defend the other guys as well because they were street people.
“We denied these charges from the beginning. And the loss to my reputation is pretty drastic too in my opinion.”
RCMP officers continue to investigate the killing of dozens of feral horses west of Sundre over the past decade. No charges have been laid in any of those killings.
The $25,000 reward being offered by the Wild Horses of Alberta Society remains outstanding, says Henderson.
6. Martens made CAO
FEB. 8: Mountain View County has hired its top administrator from within.
At a special council meeting last Tuesday, Tony Martens was appointed chief administrative officer in a unanimous vote.
The soft-spoken director of legislative and community services was named interim CAO in late October following the termination of Doug Plamping by the newly elected council.
Martens, 54, is a veteran administrator with almost 34 years of municipal experience, 24 of them at MVC. Originally hired as assistant commissioner, Martens later served as planning and development officer and in other administrative capacities, including a previous stint as interim CAO.
Calling Martens “the obvious choice” for the CAO position, Reeve Paddy Munro said the county had received 35 applications from qualified candidates since December, with council’s selection committee narrowing that down to four “highly skilled CAOs” currently working in Alberta.
“It was an absolute pleasure to sit down with all of them and we were left with a very tough decision to make,” Munro said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We decided on one individual with three decades of experience in municipal government, all of it in rural Alberta, and we believe the man is the right person for the job.
“I am so pleased to announce that Tony Martens has accepted the position of chief administrative officer, effective immediately.”
Each speaking in turn, councillors congratulated Martens on his appointment.
In response, Martens thanked council for its demonstration of confidence.
“I am truly honoured to serve in this position, to serve council, but more importantly to serve all the residents of Mountain View County,” Martens said.
7. Red Deer River changes channels
AUG. 23: Mountain View County is looking for some serious money from the province after the Red Deer River southwest of Sundre changed course earlier this year.
The breakout was reported on June 30, with the river flowing into a northerly channel at a point about seven kilometres southwest of the town.
Reports of water on range roads 61 and 60 alerted the county to the breach, operational services reported last Wednesday.
“Upon further investigation it was discovered that the Red Deer River had changed course and the water on the roads was a result of this,” the report said.
Initially, water from the new channel – flowing up to half a kilometre north of the riverbed – migrated west to the gates of Coyote Creek Resort and filled the five culverts on the Sundre Airport property “100 per cent full,” Reeve Paddy Munro told the Gazette last week.
“In my opinion, less than two per cent of the river flow was going down the river channel,” Munro said.
Within four days, the county constructed an armoured “quad trail” to berm the new channel on private land about 1.5 kilometres west of the breach. The armoured structure, Munro said, was effective in blocking the westward flow of water from the new channel, diverting it back to the main channel about two kilometres from the breach. But the downstream flooding threat remains a major concern – not only within the county but for Sundre as well, he said.
“This is as real as it gets. Hopefully the province is going to come onside this fall.”
Last week, council received a consultants report recommending the construction of a 4,190-metre berm along the north bank of the river in three stages to address the problem. The total cost with armouring is estimated at more than $2.5 million.
According to Munro, the northern channel has been dry since 1952, “except for 2005 when it did some damage to county infrastructure. Rge. Rd. 55 had the most impact,” he said. As a result, the channel was full of 60-year-old trees when the breach occurred at the end of June. “Now they’re all gone. They were wiped out in four days.”
SEPT. 27: Mountain View County will spend more than $200,000 to start construction on a berm that will extend more than four kilometres across the north bank of a new channel of the Red Deer River upstream of Sundre, council voted last week.
The decision to go ahead with the first stages of the project came after Reeve Paddy Munro reported that the county should expect “zero dollars” from the provincial government in the short term. While Rocky Mountain House MLA Ty Lund backs the county’s efforts, Munro said at Tuesday’s Municipal Area Partnership meeting, “Ty just flat-out said no money, (Environment Minister Rob) Renner said no money … until the leadership is settled.”
Munro said he was nevertheless confident that provincial funding would eventually be forthcoming, “as they’re clearly supporting us on everything except money at this time.”
But he reiterated his position that work had to begin immediately to prevent downstream flooding next spring.
NOV. 8: Mountain View County has completed the critical first phase of the four-kilometre berm designed to stop overland flooding from a new channel of the Red Deer River upstream of Sundre. Prentice Creek Contracting carried out the work between Oct. 19 and 24 after submitting the lowest bid, at $90,237.
Factoring in land purchases, compensation for land disturbance and other costs, the first stage of the project will come in close to the $200,000 approved by council in late September, Ryan Morrison, manager of infrastructure projects and technical services, said last week.
The main work was constructing 270 metres of berm without armouring at the easternmost point where the land slopes toward Sundre. About 50 metres of “stitches” or fill were also put in place on other properties, Morrison said.
The first phase was considered the minimum structural protection needed to safeguard against downstream flooding after spring breakup. County officials are awaiting a firm provincial funding commitment before proceeding with later stages of the project.
10. MDPs reopened for public input
Both Mountain View and Red Deer counties reopened their Municipal Development Plans for public input last year.
FEB. 1: After two public roundtable sessions in opposite corners of the county, Mountain View appears poised for a major shift in subdivision policies.
“The CCN (county collector network) as a criteria for doing houses is done – don’t want it anymore,” Div. 1 Coun. Kevin Good told more than 60 public participants in Cremona Wednesday night, summing up the consensus at roundtables focused on agricultural issues.
Instead, Good said, residents felt the county should “use the quality of the land as the criteria for whether the land can be subdivided or not.”
It was the same general consensus at tables directly addressing low-density country-residential development – the undisputed flashpoint of the municipal development plan review, spurred largely by concerns that multi-lot clusters were devouring prime farmland.
“The first (issue) people were very adamant about was not using the CCN to determine where the subdivisions should be,” Div. 2 Coun. Patricia McKean said in her summation.
“Everyone in the county wants a level playing field,” Div. 5 Coun. Bob Orr said in his supplemental comments on agricultural issues. “The CCN left some with an advantage.”
Under the current MDP policy – which was suspended in November pending the outcome of the public review – low-density residential development (up to five lots per quarter) can only be considered on properties situated within 800 metres of the major roads designated as the CCN.
More than 40 residents at Reed Ranch School in Div. 7 delivered a similar message the previous night, with deputy reeve Bruce Beattie saying in his summary comments that there was strong support to dispense with the CCN policy and “have country-residential subdivisions where they make sense.”
NOV. 1: Twelve people participated in an open house last Tuesday night to provide input into the Red Deer County Municipal Development Plan.
The open house, held at Aberdeen Hall, was the first of four offered within the county as a way to gather input for the MDP, last adopted in 2007 and now up for review.
“If there’s a diverse opinion on something, we want to hear that,” said Dave McRae, project manager with ISL Engineering and Land Services, who led the meeting.
People were divided into groups and asked to spend 15 minutes at different stations that represented the different sections of the MDP. Hot topics included preserving agricultural land and environment.
“People need to realize that change has to happen,” said resident Joyce Sparks about the future direction of the county. Other people agreed, saying making a living off farming isn’t always enough, and some people have to take on second jobs or develop part of their land for extra revenue. People also expressed a need to provide more agriculture-related industry to provide farmers with a place to sell their product, and also providing jobs to keep young people around.
Others disagreed and said farmland needs to be left alone. They wanted to know just how far urban sprawl would reach, adding that prime soil was being eaten up by annexation from the City of Red Deer.
All feedback was collected and will be used when considering amendments to the MDP. The completion of a draft is expected sometime in the spring, with another open house in April. The final approval is expected to a year from now.
NOV. 29: Residential development on “productive agricultural land” in Mountain View County will be generally restricted to first parcel out under a draft Municipal Development Plan made public last week.
The sweeping provision would apply to most of the eastern two-thirds of the county, except for designated growth centres outside the towns. Low-density multi-lot subdivisions, however, would still be considered in large pockets in the West Country, according to a map appearing on page 17 of the draft document.
The draft MDP, which will be unveiled at a series of four open houses beginning tonight in Sundre, contains tight restrictions on development and dispenses with many key provisions of the current plan.
The draft plan proposes the creation of an Agricultural Preservation Area that would virtually maintain the current freeze on multi-lot subdivision for lands within the designated area, most of it identified in the draft as lying east of Highway 22.
“The intent of this area is to only allow for first-parcel-out residential development to ensure productive agricultural land in the county is preserved for agricultural purposes,” says the draft summary, posted on the county’s website last Tuesday.
“Subdivision and development applications that deviate from this general policy approach are strongly discouraged and shall require significant justification,” the summary says.
The proposed Agricultural Preservation Area is included on a conceptual map to be used “as a starting point to evaluate development applications,” the summary says. “The map is adapted from the Canada Land Inventory Class 1, 2 and 3 soils in combination with Environmentally Significant Areas (ESA) mapping.”
A separate area of the map – most of it identified in the draft as lying within growth centres, west of Highway 22, or around Eagle Hill – is called the Potential Multi-Lot Residential Area.
“The intent of this area is to identify where multi-lot residential (two to four lots) may be suitable. The exact boundaries of this area must be determined through more detailed planning and engineering analysis. Development applications will be subject to consultation with local residents, council and site suitability studies,” the summary says.
The draft also proposes the creation of a Confined Feeding Operations Area – with the largest pocket lying east of the Olds growth centre – that would be deemed unsuitable for development, including first-parcel-out subdivision.
Other major proposed changes to residential land-use policies outside growth centres include allowing multi-lot subdivision (two to four lots) only if the landowner has held title to the quarter section for at least 10 years.
DEC. 6: Mountain View County rolled out its draft Municipal Development Plan to the public last week, drawing about 100 people at two open houses in the West Country.
Still a work in progress, the draft plan garnered praise for its attempt to preserve the county’s agricultural land base, but also raised concerns about lack of flexibility and key changes such as a proposed 10-year ownership requirement for subdivision applications beyond first parcel out.
And at both Sundre and Cremona, the issue of density for growth centres outside the towns – in particular at Netook Crossing east of Olds – was a recurring theme, with the subject leading to a couple of fiery exchanges in Sundre.
DEC. 13: The East Side had its say last week on Mountain View County’s draft Municipal Development Plan at open houses in Reed Ranch and Carstairs – and the reception was markedly negative compared to the first two sessions held the previous week in the West Country.
In Carstairs especially, where about 50 people filled up a room at the Half Century Club on Thursday night, the tone was generally critical of the draft plan.
“I think your pendulum has swung way too far from where we were – you have to find some kind of balance,” said one farmer in the audience, who identified himself as one of the 11 per cent who did not say that preserving agriculture was paramount in his phone survey response.
At Reed Ranch School on Tuesday, where again about 50 people attended, questions focused on the proposed Confined Feeding Operations Area which cuts a wide swath east of Olds and would be deemed unsuitable for residential development, including in some cases first-parcel-out subdivision.
Linda Svaling called the proposal too restrictive, saying it would prevent farmers from subdividing a parcel for a family member.
“It just seems that all county residents are not being treated equally,” Svaling said. “Every application should be looked at on its own merit … I realize there must be guidelines, but this seems very restrictive and unnecessarily so.”
9. Axe falls in MVC as 7 let go in county reorg
MARCH 22: Operational services director Steve McInnis and planning manager Nathan Petherick were among seven Mountain View County employees terminated on March 10 as part of a corporate reorganization, chief administrative officer Tony Martens said.
“The October election results made it clear that the county ratepayers wanted a change, so I took a look at the operations,” said Martens, who was appointed Feb. 1 after serving as interim CAO following the termination of Doug Plamping in late October.
“Changes needed to be made and these are changes that I think will address some of the concerns that the residents had. We can’t just ignore what was said last October in the election.”
In particular, Martens said, “people said there were inefficiencies in operations, so we had to deal with those inefficiencies.”
Also let go were the road maintenance supervisor, one operational services administrative support person, two equipment operators and one IT staff person.
With the road maintenance supervisor position deleted, Martens said the county “will be able to use foremen and lead hands a lot better. I want them to be involved more in the day-to-day operations.”
One of the problems with operational services, Martens said, is that “there were two people directing outside staff. The lead hands were given quadrants to look after, but in my opinion had no authority to act on their own in those quadrants.”
The reorganization is intended to shift county operations away from a top-down, compartmentalized approach.
10. Planning director leaves
JUNE 7: Mountain View County’s director of planning and development is leaving her job in what is being described as “a mutual professional parting of the ways.”
Diana Hawryluk is vacating the position she’s held for almost five years on June 30 after reaching an agreement with CAO Tony Martens, said a jointly approved statement issued last Tuesday.
In the statement, the CAO links Hawryluk’s departure to a “gap” with some councillors when it came to working with Hawryluk.
“Martens acknowledged that a gap exists with some members of council in working collaboratively with the director of planning and development. This gap has resulted in a draining effect on teamwork and productivity,” the statement said.
The issue “required a resolution in order for the county’s processes and operations to move ahead smoothly and for Ms. Hawryluk to seek a position consistent with her personal and professional goals.”
Hawryluk’s June 30 departure will fully realize the objectives of the Rural Roots petitions that called for the removal of three senior administrators. She will follow CAO Doug Plamping, terminated after the new council was elected last October, and manager of planning Nathan Pertherick, let go as part of a staff reorganization in March.
In an interview last week, however, Reeve Paddy Munro denied Hawryluk’s departure will be a vindication or fulfilment of the Rural Roots petition campaign he led in 2009.
JULY 5: Mountain View County’s departing planning director has accepted a position to head the City of Regina’s planning and sustainability department.
Diana Hawryluk said she had three job offers within a week, including a position with another county and a director’s job with the province, but decided on the Regina position “because I’ll have a staff of 70 and some great projects to work on” in the Queen City.
“I chose that one because it’s a pretty good job … It’s a great job,” Hawryluk said.
“I’m very sad I’m leaving the community (but) this is a great opportunity for me.”
Hawryluk, 37, was born and raised in Saskatoon and has family in that city and many friends in Regina, she said.
Her announced departure – explained as being the result of a “gap” with some councillors when it came to working with the director – was followed by two resignations within the department.
The director’s position has been temporarily filled by John Rusling, who was county planner prior to 2003, CAO Tony Martens said last week. Rusling was expected to start this Monday as interim director.
11. New Mount View Lodge opens
JUNE 21: The new Mount View Lodge in Olds was officially opened last Monday with about 200 people gathered outside the $21.3-million facility for a dedication ceremony that included an appearance by Premier Ed Stelmach.
“I know … with the old building there are lots of memories,” Stelmach said, addressing lodge residents sitting to the left of the podium.
“But there will be equally good memories in this building here.”
“There are 77 reasons we are here today – 77 seniors have a new place to call home,” said Debbie Bennett-Dubak, a Mountain View Senior’s Housing board member and councillor for the Town of Olds. “It’s a great good morning.”
Seniors and Community Supports Minister Mary Anne Jablonski expressed surprise at the amount of provincial dollars that went into the project.
“I can’t believe you got over $10.8 million for this facility,” Jablonski said laughing, attributing it to having “an experienced MLA” like Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Richard Marz working for the riding.
The presence of Stelmach, Jablonski and Marz for the ceremony was “evidence of the great working relationship we have in our province,” said Mountain View Seniors’ Housing board chairman Sheldon Ball.
“We’re thrilled to have everybody here. It’s been a long process. We’re ecstatic for our senior residents who finally have a new home,” Ball told the crowd. “I’d also like to thank Shunda Construction for helping us pull this thing out of the fire. They did a magnificent job.”
In an interview, Ball acknowledged that Sundre “would be the logical place” for the next new major construction project.
“Right now our focus is on the 12 life-lease units” to be constructed adjacent to the new lodge following demolition of the old building, Ball said.
The Sundre project, he said, is “a minimum of five years” away.
12. Washed-out road blamed for school bus accident
JUNE 28: A Chinook’s Edge school bus narrowly avoided plunging through a washed-out section of road near Innisfail.
The school bus, which was travelling east along Twp. Rd. 350, drove over a section of washed out road at about 8:25 a.m. on June 22. Three of the 12 Bowden Grandview School students on board the bus and the female bus driver were transported to Innisfail Hospital after the driver was able to bring the crippled bus to a halt.
Two of the students and the driver were quickly released while a Grade 9 student was transported to Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre with a jaw injury.
Caroline Worthington, whose 11-year-old son Levi was on board the bus at the time of the accident, said she’s amazed no one was seriously injured.
“We’re just very thankful that everyone was OK after seeing what (the driver) hit,” said Worthington, who lives about three kilometres from the accident scene. “We’re very thankful that everyone is in as good of shape as what they were.”
The culvert that was washed away in the June 22 accident was a five-foot-diameter pipe that had been installed about 15 years ago on a good, well-built road, Red Deer County officials explained.
13. Marksman range shuts down
MAY 10: The Mountain View Marksman Association padlocked the gate to its controversial shooting range west of Olds last Wednesday, closing the site indefinitely.
The move came immediately after the county passed a noise control bylaw targeting rifle and handgun ranges; the Marksman site is the only rifle and handgun range operating in the county.
“The MVMA is CLOSED by unanimous order of the MVMA board due to MV County’s noise bylaw,” says the hand-painted sign placed in front of the gate on Rge. Rd. 23, about one mile south of Highway 27. “It is to remain closed until further notice. Failure to comply may result in fine or imprisonment.”
In a letter to Marksman’s more than 900 members posted the same day on the club website, the board of directors said the club’s “challenges” with the county “abruptly escalated Monday to a new level with a last-minute notice and discussion in Olds” between gun club president Joe Tucker and county officials.
“We were informed it is MVC’s intention to pass a bylaw … which essentially states that if a single shot is fired it will trigger fines up to $10,000 and jail time up to 12 months.”
With the bylaw passed, the gun club’s legal “advice is that we close the MVMA Olds range indefinitely,” the letter said. “This includes all scheduled events and matches at MVMA until further notice. If you fail to abide by the bylaw and the closure you face personal liability to the MVC and the MVMA will be unable to assist you in any resulting legal proceedings.
“In the coming days and weeks, we will foster our legal response to this selective bylaw that denies our continued legal use of the MVMA Olds property,” the letter ends. “For the short term we are continuing to develop other shooting range options and locations and will keep you updated as conditions warrant and change. We appreciate your continued support.”
Reeve Paddy Munro said he was “a little surprised” by the voluntary range closure and disappointed in the club’s misleading interpretation of the newly passed noise control bylaw.
14. Province injects $10 million in waterline
The Alberta government will inject $10 million into the regional waterline twinning project, a move expected to break the impasse preventing the second phase from going ahead this year.
The provincial commitment follows a meeting in late January between commission members and Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette and officials from his department.
“We got a letter from the Department of Transportation saying we made a good presentation and they were going to give us $10 million,” Mountain View Regional Water Services Commission chairman Rick Blair told the Gazette last Monday.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Blair admitted.
Blair estimates the funding will cover “close to 25 to 35 per cent of the project,” which was expected to cost about $40 million but could come in lower if the second-phase piping is laid in conjunction with the regional wastewater line, scheduled to proceed this year.
“That’s where our savings come in,” Blair said.
The prospects for all member municipalities being onside, Blair said, “look a lot better with the provincial money. It will make a difference in what we have to borrow.”
The Town of Innisfail withdrew its support for the commission’s business plan late last year but Mayor Jim Romane said the town was willing to reconsider its position if provincial funding was on the table.
In an interview Thursday, Romane called the news “excellent” and said his council will review the revised business plan at its March 28 meeting.
“We understand the urgency,” Romane said. “We don’t want to be the bad guys holding things up.”
The commission members include the towns of Innisfail, Bowden, Olds, Didsbury, Carstairs and Crossfield.
The second phase will take the line from south of Innisfail to Olds. As well as increasing the water capacity for the member municipalities, it will enable Mountain View County to extend water services to its commercial-industrial areas, including the Highway 2/27 development.
15. Netook Crossing in doubt
JULY 24: The future of Highway 2/27 development east of Olds was thrown in doubt after Mountain View County council “took off the gloves” at its July 20 regular meeting.
Following a debate in which a majority of councillors said they did not support running piped services to the area, council voted to hire a consultant to draft an offsite levy bylaw that will set fees for developers at 2/27 to cover the estimated $45 million needed to bring in those services.
“The end result is you need to spend X dollars and it’s huge,” Reeve Paddy Munro said during the meeting. “I firmly believe that if you put offsite levy fees of $50,000 to $60,000 per acre you effectively bankrupt those developers. But that’s not so bad,” Munro said.
The new land price, Munro said, “will reflect the cost plus the offsite levy. That’s what the market will bear. If it requires a bankruptcy, so be it.”
The unanimous decision came after some councillors expressed reservations about the $75,000 consultants contract based on a range of concerns including cost and absence of a tendering process.
SEPT. 13: A major developer for the Highway 2/27 area east of Olds said Mountain View County was setting “a dangerous precedent” after council voted to suspend the offsite levy process, pending reviews of the Municipal Development Plan and 2/27 Area Structure Plan.
“We’ve invested quite a lot of millions in this county in good faith,” said realtor Herb Styles, representing a consortium of three development companies that own five quarters in the northwest quadrant between the Olds Highland Golf Course and QEII.
Now, he said, councillors have “predetermined they want to reduce the density – to what, we don’t know. There’s a dangerous precedent being set, when one council can move in after another one and say, ‘We don’t like this, we wanna wipe this out.’
“What kind of confidence does it give in this county? It’s going to give a very, very bad image to our county,” Styles said. “We paid big bucks based on values the ASP gave to the land. Who’s going to pick up the cost?”
The offsite levy process began at council’s direction earlier this summer, targeted strictly for the 2/27 ASP area. It was intended to determine the amount each property would have to pay to cover the cost of extending water and sewer services to the area.
The amount to be levied would be based on the densities laid out in the ASP, approved in 2006, and for that reason Reeve Paddy Munro subsequently tried to reverse the decision, saying it would bind council to those densities.
Last Wednesday, Munro’s arguments held sway when he rejected a strategy presented by administration to continue with the offsite levy bylaw process and adjust the densities if necessary as the MDP review winds up in the new year.
NOV. 29: Neuroese Properties has filed four separate development applications to Mountain View County that would allow the consortium to create up to 671 country-residential lots on four quarter sections and extend the Olds Central Highlands Golf Course to the west.
Three of the applications follow the Netook Crossing North concept plan approved by council in 2010 allowing for the creation of 431 residential lots and the fourth would provide land for the golf course expansion and up to 240 more residential lots, Greg Brown, the senior planning consultant for the project, told the Gazette Friday.
Brown said the timing of the applications was due to council’s apparent intent to change the Municipal Development Plan in the spring.
“We’re concerned that council will (pass) amendments in the MDP that would … virtually dictate policy that would amend” the Highway 2/27 Area Structure Plan, Brown said.
“If that were to go forward, we want to make these applications under the current MDP. And we want to look at piped services at no cost at all to the county and no maintenance cost to the county,” he said.
16. Racino pitched for 2/27
JAN. 18: It’s not a casino – it’s a “racino” or racetrack casino – and it’s just one moneymaking facet of the Olds Agricultural Society’s planned Gateway Centre at Highway 2 and 27, Mountain View County’s policies and priorities committee heard last week.
“We talk about the racino piece of this project upfront so there will be no surprises,” OAS general manager Tami Gardner told councillors during a presentation Wednesday.
But, she added, “the project also involves many other components.”
The project would see the OAS relocate its facilities from Olds to the northeast quadrant of the Olds overpass and would also include a 100-room/suite hotel, restaurant, convention centre, racetrack and 120-slot casino, said Eric Bone of the Commonwealth Group P3 consortium that lists 21 business partners and associates.
“That becomes the revenue to feed the agricultural component,” Bone said.
The racino would be tied to the racetrack and would be limited to only slot machines, he said.
While no estimated project costs were presented, Bone said the OAS would be able to access Farm Credit Canada financing and the society has said it will use proceeds from the sale of its 65 acres within Olds to help bankroll the project.
“The core financing is in place for what we need to do,” Bone said.
FEB. 1: Farm Credit Canada will not be financing the Olds Agricultural Society’s planned development for the Highway 2/27 intersection, FCC’s vice-president of western operations told the Gazette last week.
“It’s outside of our mandate,” Clem Samson said Tuesday from his Calgary office. “We’re governed by a federal mandate and anything to do with entertainment would be deemed ineligible,” Samson said.
On Jan. 12, Eric Bone of the Commonwealth P3 consortium told Mountain View County council that “core financing is in place” and the ag society “would have the opportunity to access” FCC credit for the Gateway Centre project, which would include a racetrack, casino, hotel, restaurant and convention centre, as well as ag society facilities currently situated in Olds.
But that’s not what FCC told Commonwealth officials, Samson said last week.
“They were told in December that this project is ineligible and can’t be done through FCC,” he said.
Samson contacted the Gazette to set the record straight after the story, he said, “went viral.”
“We’re getting an awful lot of pushback from producers in the Olds area asking, ‘What the heck are you doing financing it?’ – which we’re not.”
Contacted by the Gazette, Commonwealth chief operating officer Reid Lillico confirmed there was no FCC backing for the project.
“They’re withdrawing. That’s OK. I’ve replaced them,” Lillico said Tuesday.
“They had one of their people saying they were quite interested in doing things, but they’ve had every ag society in the province calling them” with requests since the story broke, Lillico said. “They had a change in policy and we’re fine with it,”
Lillico said U.S.-based Largo Capital “is very interested” in financing the ag society component of the project, as well as the agricultural centre of excellence, a “seniors component, if so desired,” and a truck stop. “That’s definitely been expressed to us in writing and verbally.”
The project moving ahead at the northeast quadrant of the Olds overpass is also contingent on Alberta Transportation selling the property to OAS and the timing of the overpass reconstruction. That project – which will see the current loop ramp replaced with a roundabout – was included last year in Alberta Transportation’s three-year construction schedule.
“We have a schedule and we’re working toward it,” Stu Becker, director for the Central Region, told the Gazette last month, adding that he could not be more specific on the timetable.
The private-public partnership (P3) business model means the owners of the hotel and each of the other commercial facilities “will be the ag society plus a professional organization that does those things,” Lillico said. “They will function on their own with the ag society having a percentage of the ownership.”
MARCH 15: The Olds Ag Society is confident it can find investors and proceed with land acquisition for a racetrack casino while the province’s moratorium on casino licences remains in effect, the group’s general manager says.
“We did meet with a group of investors one week ago today and they were very knowledgeable and very aware of the situation, and they did not seem deterred by the discussion,” Tami Gardner told the Gazette, adding that the potential investors were based out of the Edmonton area.
“We are not deviating from the objectives and goals of the business plan,” Gardner said. “Because it is a five-year projection, we don’t feel present-day challenges will necessarily deter us from going forward.”
Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission spokeswoman Christine Ronko confirmed earlier this month that the ag society’s proposed 120-slot racino complex would fall under the ALGC moratorium. “There is a deferral on all gaming licences, indefinitely,” Ronko said. “The AGLC board has deferred all gaming facility applications since 2008.”
A proposed racino complex at CrossIron Mills was one of two applications approved before the 2008 deferral, so that its licence is grandfathered and still valid. The other is held by the Louis Bull Tribe at Hobbema. Alberta currently has three racino complexes – at Evergreen Park outside Grande Prairie, Northlands Park in Edmonton and Whoop-Up Downs in Lethbridge.
17. Tax fracking ops $25K/well, says reeve
SEPT. 13: Whacking the fracking operations in Mountain View County for damage to roads and other county infrastructure will not be as easy as imposing a new tax on wells, council learned at last Wednesday’s meeting.
Last month, Reeve Paddy Munro had urged council to start “whacking” hydraulic fracturing projects to the tune of $25,000 per well to pay for infrastructure repairs – but a report from administration presented last week ruled out any simple options.
Well drilling equipment tax rates are set provincially and the county cannot charge more than the minister authorizes, Jeff Holmes, director of legislative, community and agricultural services, told council.
The county could increase its linear tax rate, applied on pipelines and wells, but under the Municipal Government Act it would also have to increase the rate for other non-residential and non-agricultural properties, Holmes said.
A special tax could be considered on an area-wide basis, but it too would have to apply to other, unrelated activities in the same area, he said.
And a business tax, levied according to specific classes of business, could be introduced but it would have to replace linear and machinery/equipment taxes and “the county may not come out ahead of our current tax structure.”
While the county can increase its inspection fees and pipeline crossing fees, “taxation of the oil and gas industry is primarily regulated by the Alberta government to ensure that oil and gas operators are treated equitably throughout the province,” Holmes reported.
At a public meeting in Eagle Hill that night, Graham Gilchrist of the Farmers Advocate Office told county officials that the municipality had the power to impose rules and charges on oil and gas companies.
“You have the power of bylaw, you have the power of taxation,” Gilchrist said, suggesting a noise bylaw and a business licence, respectively, to address nuisance and cost.
18. Bumper harvest
SEPT. 27: The current weather in Mountain View County is making for a good harvest season, say area agriculture officials.
“This warm, sunny weather is just perfect for harvest,” said Bill Sheehan, chair of the county’s Ag Services Board. “We’ve had very little dew at night, warm wind and sun – it’s exactly what we need,” Sheehan said.
Compared to the last few years, yields in the Mountain View County area are above average, Sheehan added.
This year’s second cut of hay has been excellent, which Sheehan said is rather unusual.
In recent weeks, crop reports from Alberta Agriculture have reported the overall provincial yields to be above their 10-year averages, with a large portion being of good quality.
19. Missing bridge delays ambulance times
OCT. 25: The replacement of Big Prairie Bridge is becoming a matter of life-and-death urgency.
In two separate incidents last month, women with life-threatening injuries were forced to endure extra wait times for ambulances due to the loss of the bridge on Twp. Rd. 302, which was destroyed by arson in October 2009.
On Sept. 3, Diana Bouck was suffering from internal bleeding and multiple fractures after being bucked from her horse near her home on Water Valley North Road (Rge. Rd. 52).
“The Carstairs ambulance took 59 minutes to arrive at my location due to GPS sending them to the Big Prairie Bridge Road first,” Bouck told the Gazette. “Normally with the bridge in place the commute would take approximately 25 minutes doing the speed limit. Ambulances can go much faster. The delay caused by the non-reconstruction of Big Prairie Bride could have cost me my life,” Bouck said.
Arriving at the Foothills Medical Centre after a total of three hours travel without medication, Bouck, 49, was diagnosed with a lacerated spleen, punctured lung, two clavicle fractures and nine rib fractures. She spent 10 days in the trauma unit at Foothills and then two weeks in Sundre Hospital and Care Centre under pain management.
Bouck said she had nothing but praise for the emergency responders who came to her assistance and saved her life, calling their conduct “professional and compassionate.”
“But their duties were hampered and delayed by the bridge being out,” she added.
The day after Bouck’s accident, Kris Canaday was also thrown from a horse and suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs and abdominal injuries.
Canaday called 911 and credits Cremona Fire and Rescue for acting on the previous day’s mix-up and notifying the ambulance not to follow false GPS coordinates to the bridge site.
But the absence of the bridge, Canaday said, meant it took an extra 15 minutes for the ambulance to reach her home off Big Prairie Road and an extra 15 minutes for the ambulance ride after she was picked up.
“In my case it’s more out of the way to come and get me,” said Canaday, 51, who spent almost six weeks in hospital being treated for her injuries.
The bridge had originally been slated for replacement this year after county officials negotiated a deal with the province for each level of government to share 50 per cent of the estimated $1.6-million cost.
In July, however, the lowest bid for the project came in at $2.8 million and, with the provincial share capped at $800,000, council voted to put it on hold for one year and re-tender it for a fall 2012 completion date.
Council is now studying a lower-cost steel design and has included $800,000 for the project in the 2012 interim budget.
20. Pinkest Little Town title dubbed 'icing on the cake'
NOV. 15: Having Cremona/Water Valley named the “Pinkest Little Town in the West” was “the pink icing on the cake” for organizer Peggy Good.
“We’re pretty pink pleased to have won this honour,” said Good, spokesperson for Women Missing In Action, the group responsible for taking on the fundraising challenge presented by Wild Pink Yonder. “The hard work has paid off.”
The group’s organizational efforts raised $43,556.94 for Wild Pink Yonder, a fundraising competition among villages and towns to raise money for breast cancer research. Communities are also judged on their display of pink pride.
Earlier this year, when Cremona/Water Valley was named as one of the 23 stops along the way for Wild Pink Yonder, the members of Women Missing In Action decided to get involved.
“We’re an informal group of mainly rural members who have worked together on various projects in past years,” said Good. “We spent many hours at many meetings to orchestrate this great event. It’s impressive when I think of all the support we had.
“People painted their doors and steps pink and everybody planted pink flowers,” Good added. “We became a pink community.”
A highway sign will celebrate the community’s win, and a celebratory concert will be held, at a future date.
The WPY’s trail boss and founder, Jane Hurl, presented the Alberta Cancer Foundation with a cheque in excess of $177,000, representing monies raised by the 23 participating communities.
“This exceeded our goal of $100,000 by far,” said Hurl. “This amount is triple last year’s total.”
21. Lawsuit spurs Nielsen's resignation from CWB
NOV. 8: Feeling that he could no longer support Canadian Wheat Board actions advocating for a single-desk marketing system of western Canadian grain, Olds-area farmer Jeff Nielsen tendered his resignation from the board last week.
Reached in Ottawa, Nielsen said the tipping point for him was the CWB’s decision to sue the federal government over Bill C-18 to give marketing choice to farmers.
“After our decision to move ahead and sue the federal government over Bill C-18, and in talking to a lot of farmers, it was clearly in the best interest of farmers and myself that I step aside, as a majority of farmers … that I’ve been talking to do not support the Canadian Wheat Board continuing to fight the government, when all along producers have … wanted marketing choice,” he said.
Nielsen, who represented district 2, said he supports Bill C-18, The Marketing Freedom Act For Grain Producers. Once the act is proclaimed, the 10 elected members will be removed in favour of four appointed members and the chief executive to be the sole marketer of western grain until July 31, 2012, the end of the crop year. Effective Aug. 1, 2012, the bill would give western grain farmers the ability to choose their own way to market their grain – one of those choices being the CWB.
“It opens it up to a free market (after July 31). The Canadian Wheat Board (will be) an active player in that market. That’s what’s really needed because grain is a very fluid commodity. Our end users need a certain amount of grain throughout the year so we need to be able to start marketing next year’s crop as soon as possible,” he said.
Nielson said both he and Henry Vos, a Fairview farmer who resigned previously, were the only two members on the board who advocated marketing choice. The other eight farmers on the board all support the monopoly of the CWB selling western grain, he said.
Meanwhile, the Western Canadian Grain Growers Association has filed legal action against the CWB for what it calls “misuse of farmers’ money.”
Nielsen said not being on the CWB will allow him to concentrate more on his own operation southeast of Olds. He said he still hopes to be active with different producer groups, such as the Canola Growers of Alberta and the Western Barley Growers Association, among others.
22. Marz breaks party ranks; opposes .05 impaired legislation
DEC. 13: Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Richard Marz stepped out of the party line last week, announcing to the legislature that he would not support the province’s controversial impaired driving legislation, Bill 26.
“There are just too many questions and there has been too little time to study all of this,” Marz told the legislature on Dec. 5. “I don’t think this bill is near close enough. It’s very divisive and that creates concerns right there for me.”
The count was recorded on Dec. 6, with 30 voting in favour, and seven opposed. “There were 46 who didn’t vote,” Marz said.
Bill 26, the Alberta Traffic Safety Amendment Act 2011, was introduced in the Alberta legislature by Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk, who said it balances prevention and education with tougher sanctions. The bill was also championed by Attorney General and Minister of Justice Verlyn Olson and Minister of Solicitor General and Public Security Jonathan Denis.
“I have one goal for this legislation, and that is having more Albertans arrive home safely at the end of the day,” Danyluk told the Gazette. “Not only does Alberta’s approach target repeat offenders, it is designed to reduce the number of drivers who become repeat offenders in the first place.”
In the last five years, Danyluk said, 569 Albertans died because of impaired driving. “There have been 8,500 injuries, as well. In Alberta, 22 per cent of deaths are caused by impaired driving. This is safety legislation, first and foremost.”
Every province in Canada, except Quebec, imposes licence consequences on drivers at .05 or above.
“Saskatchewan starts at .04,” Danyluk added. “Thirty-three other countries have .05 or lower.”
Alberta’s approach also proposes vehicle seizures as a meaningful consequence to influence driver behaviour.
“The three-day confiscation of your vehicle is the big part of the bill,” Marz stated. “In rural Alberta, not everyone has a lineup of vehicles. How will that affect your job, if the car isn’t available for you to get to work? Or what if your teenager has the family vehicle taken away? How does the income earner of the family get to work?”
Marz said he found a number of things confusing about Bill 26. “One is the speed it was felt this had to be done,” he said. “When the Minister of Transportation stated in the House that three ministries had been studying it for four years, they should have considered a detailed report that I had tabled last December, titled Alcohol Crash Problem in Canada, 1995-2008.”
Danyluk countered that he did advise his staff. “We looked at that and other reports to assess where we are and where we’re going,” he said. “This is a safety legislation that targets repeat offenders. It’s not about social drinkers.
“We’re building on .05 sanctions that have been in Alberta for several years.”
Another concern that Marz raised was that the public was not fully consulted on the bill.
“The unsuspecting public should have had an opportunity to hear what we’re doing,” Marz said. “This is not happening. We need to be talking to Albertans about this. Then perhaps we would have a more perfect piece of legislation.”
He also noted that the hospitality industry did not have much input.