By Cole Parkinson
Southern Alberta Newspapers
While it may be the middle of summer, that doesn’t mean 40 Mile County councillors have little to do.
At their July 28 meeting, councillors were updated on several workings going on in the county.
With lots of heat and dry conditions, council has been focused on the effects it has brought on farmers in the region.
While council originally elected not to declare an agricultural disaster earlier in July, the topic was once again presented at their July 28 meeting.
“We discussed that at council and that was our dilemma a month ago when we were talking about do we declare an agriculture disaster in our county,” stated Reeve Steve Wikkerink. “That was a month before this July 28 meeting and we decided no, we weren’t, but then when it came back to the July 28 meeting, a councillor who is more in the ranch land and dryland area said ‘we’re getting all kinds of phone calls, what are we doing?’ If it’s going to be tied to any kind of assistance, then we almost have to. Most of us agreed and we did pass that on the 28 and we did declare an agriculture disaster in the County of 40 Mile.”
In early August, the provincial government also announced it would be making $136 million available under the AgriRecovery program, a joint program between the governments of Alberta and Canada, and they also asked the federal government to provide an additional $204 million for a total relief package of $340 million.
The federal government is currently evaluating this request and earlier today announced $100 million in immediate relief for Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta. Programming costs are split 60-40 between the provincial and federal governments.
“From our point of view, (ranchers) are the ones being hardest hit. Part of the problem is water, obviously. But, the other big one is sourcing feed and this time it is so much more dramatic because it’s such a huge area. We also heard from this announcement, the beef producers, they are saying the good feed in (southern Alberta) is heading down south to the States because they have the buying power with the way the dollar is. You hate to shoot the person in the foot who has feed for sale when he wants to cash in himself on high pricing. It makes it tough on the ranchers,” added Wikkerink. “Hopefully we don’t see a big sale off of cattle this fall.”
Another topic broached by council was broadband. With a project in the works, council was updated on the progress so far.
“We had passed a couple of meetings ago, about pursuing a broadband opportunity that was presenting itself, kind of up here along Highway 3. We had an update on that at our meeting and it is moving ahead, and if anything, a touch ahead of schedule. I think this coming meeting we’ll get another update and see where we are. We have a company working on it for us and we put a bit of a proposal together, and it looks like council has agreed to push this forward and they see the importance of it. Hopefully, it won’t be too long and we’ll make a bigger announcement of what exactly we’re doing there with broadband.”
Council also got some good news in the way of additional funds coming.
“We talked a little bit about some government funding that is coming down the line through the Federal Gas Tax. That brought us a couple hundred thousand dollars that we weren’t banking on, which we always like,” said Wikkerink, with a chuckle.
Council also saw some additional dollars due to sales of some old graders.
“We ordered some new graders this year and we didn’t trade any graders in this year. This time, we tried to sell them on the open market. So we had four graders for sale and we got a new bid come in that was about $30,000 higher than the previous bid, so we gave the blessing to the public works supervisor to sell them. So, we’ll get some old stuff out of the yard,” added Wikkerink.
As the summer heat continues in southern Alberta, council also dealt with a concern at 40 Mile Park.
After the boat launch was originally closed due to concerns of low water, several councillors were able to assess the situation.
“The park is under the county umbrella, but it’s run by its own board and members. The big discussion there was that about a week before this council meeting, there was a decision to lock off the boat launch because the manager we had there was on a one year contract and filling in for a mat leave,” continued Wikkerink. “They didn’t know a lot of the history and how far the boat launch went. So, the boat launch got chained off, but then two other councillors and another gentleman with a depth finder took their boats out. They found we had lots of water to launch boats, so got that reopened. That made a lot of people happy.”
The heat has also contributed to several hot spot areas of weeds in the municipality.
Council discussed a few different ways they could tackle the weeds that were growing rapidly across 40 Mile.
“Another big topic that has been going on this year is weeds along municipal roads and mowing. Our ag department is really short-staffed this year, our public works has been short-staffed, and we really notice it this year. It’s really hard to hire the full staff we need for the summer and at the same time, we moved our mowing division from public works over to ag. We felt it would fit better there when ag is trying to coordinate their spraying with mowing and all that stuff,” stated Wikkerink. “Of course, with the heat, it seems the Kochia weed is growing crazy right now. They are working as hard as they can. We did make a suggestion, because the public works supervisor was at the meeting, and he felt there were some spare mowers so, their department and ag were going to coordinate to get all mowers going so we can get this Kochia weed cleaned up.”
Sticking with the heat, council also welcomed their new fire chief Darren Arseneault into council chambers.
“One of the questions we asked Darren was — why do we have fire incinerators on the same list as our burning barrels when it comes to fire ban? He said that most of the incinerators that are out in the country that he has seen so far, they really don’t qualify to be a fire incinerator. He said a fire incinerator needs to have an oppressor and a fire suppressor in the last piece of the chimney before it goes into the air,” continued Wikkerink. “He said most of the ones he has looked at so far, yes they are tall and they’re enclosed, but it’s still just an open pipe going out of the top. Sparks and debris can still go out, so he said technically those don’t qualify. He was going to do more research on that to see some of the options for our ratepayers. Maybe it’s something they can simply add to their existing (equipment), and then we can maybe make a change, but at this point, he said don’t make any changes.”
Finally, council also got an economic development update.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, in-person updates from Verge Economic Development haven’t been possible in quite some time, but council was finally able to do just that on July 28.
“Ever since COVID hit, Teresa (Hardiker) was not able to come into council and present anything,” said Wikkerink. “This was the first time she had been back in around 18 months and gave us a very nice update on what’s been going on, what she’s been working on and some of the opportunities that will hopefully open up as Alberta gets back to normal. It was very nice to have her back in the meeting and to have some things in the works.”