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Debate rages over local roads at Woodlands County council meeting

Councillors ultimately decide to take road tour in mid-June to survey problem areas
Woodlands County Sign
Like many municipalities, Woodlands County is having to contend with roads breaking up due to poor weather conditions this year. However, Woodlands is also faced with the double whammy of limited funds as the result of unpaid taxes owed by oil and gas companies. Council debated the situation at length during the June 2 meeting, which was livestreamed over Youtube.

The condition of local roads was the source of significant debate during the Woodlands County council meeting on June 2, as multiple motions were brought forward by councillors concerning dust control and road maintenance.

While not everyone was in agreement, council eventually decided to take a “road tour” of the problem areas, which will likely occur on June 17.

They are also waiting for the infrastructure services department to develop a plan to address the major problem roads throughout the county, which may return to council in the next four to six weeks.

Whitecourt East Coun. Jim Rennie initially kicked off the debate by bringing forward a motion to apply dust control to Range Road 120, an access road for a number of subdivisions that sees high residential and commercial traffic.

Director of infrastructure services Andre Bachand said there was no money allotted to dust control in the 2020 budget, but based on the price of 2019 dust control, it would cost roughly $20,000 to $25,000 to apply calcium chloride to that road.

Bachand later noted that calcium chloride was not applied to Range Road 120 last year, but it was also an extremely wet spring and there was some residual dust control product still on the road.

Rennie acknowledged that applying dust control to this one road might open up the county to similar requests from other areas, but the situation along Range Road 120 was extremely dangerous.

“This is probably the most densely populated road in all of Woodlands County that has a gravel surface. We can’t leave it as it is; it’s not acceptable,” said Rennie.

He added that anyone who questioned the need for dust control along Range Road 120 should drive along it. “You’ll know right away that it’s not acceptable,” Rennie said.

Other councillors conceded that Range Road 120 probably did need dust control, as they had either driven it themselves or heard from people who live in the area. However, they were opposed to the expense.

Reeve John Burrows said he had been “inundated” with calls about roads the previous week, but county staff were working on a plan to improve roads, which was supposed to be coming back to council in the next four to six weeks.

“We have lots of problem roads in the municipality,” he said. “I’m trying to find a balance between chipping away … and getting really good fixes to ensure roads are up to par.”

Blue Ridge Coun. Bruce Prestidge also pointed out that there are sections of the county with road closures, and there wasn’t money in the budget to address those areas either.

Ultimately, Rennie’s motion was defeated 1-6. He then tried to put forward a motion to have every councillor drive that road in the next two days and then debate the issue again during a special meeting, which had little support.

Goose Lake/Freeman River Coun. Dale McQueen said he knew where Rennie was coming from, but he had no idea where the money to do these road projects would come from.

Whitecourt Central Coun. Ron Govenlock also pointed out that, in his experience, municipal councils all had to see the same problem at the same time for their assessment to have any validity.

In the end, Rennie’s second motion was rescinded. He then put forward a third motion to set a date for the road tour, which was passed unanimously.

Second half of the debate

The issue of roads came up again later in the meeting when Govenlock put forward a motion for administration to find $1 million within the county’s budget to address problem roads.

Like Burrows, Govenlock said he had received several e-mails and calls about road conditions throughout the municipality.

Govenlock said he had been on council for six years and the condition of local roads came up every year; in fact, council had even gone on road tours before.

Even though roads are the top concern of local residents, nothing was being done to address the problem, he indicated.

Govenlock said he was not in favour of borrowing the $1 million or so to do major road repairs throughout the county, as Woodlands is a “somewhat cash-strapped” municipality. Rather, he argued that administration could find the money in the budget.

“We spend in excess of $20 million every year, and when I look at the accomplishments for 2019, I’m embarrassed. There isn’t one thing I can identify that is a progressive improvement for the municipality,” he said.

“Everything seems to get money except roads. I’m simply saying it’s time to make roads the priority.”

Prestidge said he heard many times that roads in Woodlands County were in better shape than their neighbours. When he had the opportunity to travel to other municipalities the week before, he could at least confirm that other municipalities had roads that were in poor condition.

He added that now was not the time to attempt a bunch of major infrastructure projects, as the roads needed to dry firs.

Ultimately, council voted 6-1 on a motion from Fort Assiniboine/Goose Lake Coun. Dale Kluin to table the discussion until administration came back with a plan to fix roads, along with a date for the road tour. Govenlock voted in opposition.

Kevin Berger, TownandCountryToday.com





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