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Do the shoulder pull, don't do the shoulder pull

Council discussions continue on what to do about the roads in Westlock County
WES county spring 2020
The shoulder pull program in Westlock County is under discussion again, and although council hasn't made any decisions yet, individual councillors are taking sides on its necessity in 2020.

WESTLOCK—Westlock County councillors are taking sides on a shoulder pull program that’s already contracted out for 2020.

In a governance and priorities meeting June 9, council reviewed some comparisons between what it would look like to do shoulder pulls on 48 km. of county roads versus using that same money to gravel 190 km. instead.

This was brought forward after deputy reeve Brian Coleman suggested at the last May meeting that the $1.1 million allocated for shoulder pulls would be better spent on graveling and patching.

Prior to the road discussion, however, council was made aware that the county had $990,000 in unallocated Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant funding.

According to the county’s calculations, only $1.05 million was allocated for the shoulder pull program out of a $1.3 million MSI grant in 2019.

The remainder, just short of $250,000, is being carried into 2020. The MSI allocation for 2020 alone comes in at $2.26 million, so the county has $2.5 million in that grant.

The gravel program will take up an estimated $1.5 million, leaving the $990,000 unallocated.

Coleman’s opinion on the shoulder pull program changed after reviewing those numbers. He maintained instead that it is possible to still do the shoulder pull if those MSI funds are spent on graveling and patching.

But where Coleman saw the new figures as a possibility to run both programs, some still thought it was either/or. Coun. Dennis Primeau and Jared Stitsen didn’t see the necessity for shoulder pulls to be done in 2020.

For Primeau, it was a matter of maintenance.

“You cannot allow holes … and water sitting on the road. It just can’t happen. You’re going to waste your time. Two years later, you’re going to ask what happened, you shoulder pulled the road and it’s gone,” he said.

This applies, Primeau added, to the road itself and the adjacent ditching.

“I’m all for getting back to the shoulder pull program another year,” said Stitsen, who thinks the county should instead focus its money on saving the existing infrastructure since “we’re still playing catch-up.”

Coun. Isaac Skuban also declared he’s “leaning toward patching.”

In May, Coun. Fred Slobodian was incensed at Coleman’s suggestion to get rid of the shoulder pull program, which he called a “lifesaver” for many.

This time, he issued some clarification on when and where shoulder pulls are appropriate, in response to other councillors’ focus on maintaining existing infrastructure.

“I think that you spend money on shoulder pulls in places that are starting to show the potential that it’s starting to (deteriorate) a little bit here and there, but they still have a grade there. If you don’t have a grade, you’re wasting your time with shoulder pulls,” said Slobodian.

“But I don’t want to see a bunch of gravel wasted on that either. You save some money and you rebuild.”

The county had signed a contract with a provider for shoulder pulling to be done in 2019, but the adverse weather pushed the project to 2020.

“There has been a lot of rain and the concern is the county may not be able to get the shoulder pulls done again this year, however this remains to be seen,” wrote interim CAO Rick McDonald in a June 11 e-mail.

That contract still stands, he told council.

“From administration’s view point the shoulder pulls will be going ahead unless a decision is made otherwise, which will be a decision of council. Administration will be providing information to a future meeting for council to consider,” McDonald wrote in the e-mail.

Andreea Resmerita,