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2010 Year in Review

It was quite the year here in Westlock, with the town experiencing ups and downs like all other communities. There was victory to be celebrated, defeat to suffer, with just a little bit of controversy to spice things up.

It was quite the year here in Westlock, with the town experiencing ups and downs like all other communities. There was victory to be celebrated, defeat to suffer, with just a little bit of controversy to spice things up. Some people rose above, some people disappeared from the public eye, and many others simply kept doing what they were always doing: contributing to the community’s lifeblood. Through it all, Westlock continued to grow and work with its neighbours to improve the community as a whole. The Westlock News now takes the opportunity to recount those stories that grabbed the headlines in 2010.

The Spirit Centre grabbed many headlines in 2010, as it went from a vision to a near reality.

In January, leading up to the Feb. 2 town plebiscite, people made their pleas for and against the project and its costs. In the end, Westlock residents voted overwhelmingly in favour, at 76 per cent, to borrow $4 million to fund the centre.

From there, the project moved forward. Its cost dropped from earlier estimates of $19 million to $12.5 million. A contract was signed with Balon Construction to build the centre; the contract states the cost to the town cannot increase beyond the established $12.5 million price tag. Even though the company has now gone into receivership, the contractors will finish the work for the original price.

Ground was broken on May 14, with all manner of dignitaries in attendance. Then, as wet weather set in, construction was delayed by close to three weeks, pushing back the planned opening from the spring of 2011 until some time in the summer.

On its face, this isn’t a strange story. The superintendent of the Pembina Hills school division, Richard Harvey, was scheduled to leave his job at the end of the year. However, he instead left the job two months early, on Oct. 23, 2010.

What makes this the story it is is that no one has been willing to discuss why Harvey left his job when he did. In fact, no one has even made it known whether Harvey left of his own accord, or whether he was fired. There has been no talk of a severance package, either. In short, there has been no accountability at PHRD with respect to this matter.

As a public entity funded by taxpayers, it raises a lot of questions for PHRD not to make it known the circumstances behind Harvey’s premature departure.

Following Harvey’s departure, in-coming superintendent Egbert Stang was forced assumed his duties starting Nov. 1, two months earlier than planned.

Oct. 18 saw all of Alberta vote in municipal elections. Here in the Westlock area, that meant three municipalities and PHRD saw fairly substantial turnover in their elected ranks.

In Westlock, two new faces joined council. Clem Fagnan and Sheila Foley joined incumbent councillors Darrel Erickson, David Truckey, Robin Brett and Marjorie Sterling Miller. Bruce Lennon remained mayor through acclamation.

In Westlock County, three incumbent councillors lost their seats. Bill Starr was defeated by Ron Zadunayski, Don James fell to Maureen Kubinec and Don Savage outpolled Charlotte Eliuk by a single vote. Bert Seatter was acclaimed, while Conrad Sehn, Charles Navratil and Mike Cook all survived challenges to retain their seats. Navratil was later selected county reeve.

In Clyde, only one incumbent councillor of the three who ran managed to hold onto a seat. Doug Nyal held on to his seat, while Stu Lorencz and Donald Domingue fell several votes shy of reelection. Joining Nyal on council are Diana Vosseler, Bob Gault, Christa Clausing and Wayne Wilcox. Nyal was later chosen to assume the mayor’s chair.

At PHRD, Doug Fleming kept his Subdivision No. 3 seat on the board via acclamation, and was subsequently appointed board chair. Twenty-two year trustee Clayton Jesperson lost his Subdivision No. 2 seat to challenger Annette Bokenfohr by a 603-488 vote margin, while Sherry Allen defeated incumbent trustee Weida Kingma in Subdivision No. 1.

Westlock County courted some controversy in 2010 with regards to a gravel pit located west of Jarvie in Barrhead County.

Following an investigation by the Westlock News into allegations the county had sold the pit, thought to contain more gravel than it actually did, to the Pibroch Hutterite colony, it was learned the county only sold some gravel to the colony.

However, the county’s decision to sell over 1,200 tonnes of gravel to the colony was in direct contravention of the county’s policy not to sell gravel to either ratepayers or businesses.

This complicated issue also involved Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, as well as changes to the size of the pit under several lease arrangements.

The issue caused an uproar throughout the county, and raised a lot of questions, many of which remain unanswered.

On Dec. 14-15, a major winter storm hit the Westlock area, dumping more than 12 centimetres of snow, rendering many streets nearly impassible and trapping many cars in their driveways. Making matters worse is the area was in the process of digging out from a previous snowfall, causing even more headaches for area residents and business owners.

Mayor Bruce Lennon said the snowfall was the heaviest the town had received in decades, which taxed the town’s ability to clean up after it. The town had to finish cleaning up from the first storm before starting the cleanup from the second.

Despite the heavy and duplicate snowfalls, and much to the chagrin of many business owners who wanted the work done faster, the town managed to dig itself out and return to normal operation by Dec. 20.

The Westlock Women’s Association underwent a trying and exciting year in 2010. The association had applied for two grants totalling more than $450,000 from the provincial and federal governments in 2009, but has not yet received word if it has been successful. The decision is expected to come down in April 2011.

However, that setback has not dampened the association’s spirits, as it continued to expand and provide services for as many people as it could. To date, it has been able to assist over 45 people who have been victims of some form of violence.

In addition, the association opened the Hope Resource Centre in September. The centre serves as a place where people can stop in for more information about violence and abuse, or get help if they themselves have been abused.

A large wildfire that burned for several days in May in the southwest corner of Thorhild county claimed an unexpected victim: the pride of a water bomber pilot.

On May 17, a water bomber was forced to make an emergency landing after striking a bird on a reloading run. Upon attempting to take off, the plane hit a sandbar in Wakomao Lake and was stuck in the lake for three days before being freed.

Except for the bird, no one was injured in the incident.

The fire also prompted the closure of Eleanor Hall School in Clyde on May 14, as the winds were blowing smoke into the village.

More fires, this time from B.C., caused some more havoc in Westlock. In August, a provincial health advisory was issued after clouds of smoke hung over the Westlock area, prompting an air quality warning that lasted four days.

Busby native and R.F. Staples student Kyle Schole won more than $49,000 in scholarships and prizes, along with the opportunity to attend an international science fair in 2011, after his science fair project won a gold medal in May.

His project, “The Microbial Degradation of Vehicle Tires,” looked at how to use bacteria to break down the rubber in vehicle tires, while at the same time creating electricity. It also won him a gold medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Peterborough, Ont. in the spring. In addition to the medal, he also earned the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation’s Young Canadian Innovation Award, which comes with a $4,500 cash prize.

Beyond the YCIA prize, Schole was also offered over $35,000 in scholarships from UBC, Dalhousie and the University of Ottawa.

The potential use for the results of Schole’s project is as a safe disposal method of a hazardous material that also generates electricity, which in turn could help stave off conflict between nations as the energy crisis worsens.

It may have taken a bit longer than planned, but the villages of Clyde and Vimy finally joined the Westlock Regional Water System in 2010.

The plan, which had been in the works for several years, overcame a few hiccups to reach full implementation in early September. A major setback was the water levels in the reservoir, which due to the weather had dropped to a point where there was not enough water to safely make the switch.

The project cost $29 million, and adds both Clyde and Vimy to the same water system that feeds the town of Westlock. The system draws its water from the Pembina River, and is then treated before being sent through new transmission lines to the village and hamlet.

Moving forward, the village of Clyde took over administration duties of the system on Jan. 1, 2011, and will stay in that role until 2016.

In late June and early July, Fawcett residents were forced to drink bottled water after nitrite levels in the hamlet’s drinking water were found to exceed acceptable levels for safe consumption.

On June 30, a water advisory was issued for Fawcett residents, warning pregnant and nursing women, as well as all children under six months of age, not to drink the water. Alberta Health also advised not to use the water to make baby food, baby formula or juice.

The advisory was short-lived, as it was formally lifted on July 9 after test results the previous day showed the nitrite in the water had dropped back to acceptable levels.

The source of the contamination has not been identified, but the hamlet will continue to monitor nitrite levels going forward, as well as perform regular distribution system flushes. In addition, Vimy’s reverse osmosis system is being sent to the hamlet after the Westlock regional water system is completed.