By Justin Seward
County of Forty Mile Reeve Steve Wikkerink saw a lot of upside from the municipality in 2020.
“Overall, it went good,” said Wikkerink.
“Obviously we started out the year basically as normal and we were processing along and then of course when the whole COVID thing happened, there was lots of questions marks at first of how we would continue to function and how do we function if a bunch of staff were to get sick or something. Once we got through that first kind of week or two of the unknowns and then settled into the safety protocols, I think it went quite well. I think our staff did an excellent job on spreading themselves out-keeping themselves as safe as they can at work.”
Some employees decided to work at home and some of them went directly to their work and didn’t necessarily come to the shop everyday, added Wikkerink.
“I think they fell into a routine that worked for this year and not necessarily would we want to see that routine every year. But I think our staff made it through quite well,” said Wikkerink.
Wikkerink added that council was concerned with what do they do if a percentage of the staff was lost to sickness.
“We had those unknowns,” he said.
“We had the unknowns of ourselves meeting together and eventually going to Zoom and being unsure what that was going to be like … We kind of left it up to invodual councillors (and) what their preference was.
“Each meeting we would have some councillors at home and the rest of us would go into the office and stay masked the whole time. We had to work through some of the uncertainty-just like our staff did. I think we worked through the hurdles and it seemed to work alright, and I think in the near future we’re probably still stuck in that same routine.”
COVID impacted the county’s ability to host open houses for the public to comment on bylaws before being passed.
The pandemic also forced the cancellation of at least two conferences through the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) and the second meeting of the Little Bow Association in January as well as the Ag Service Board conference.
“Those are pretty important functions as municipalities and as councillors to not only get to those conventions so that you can network with other counties and councillors and pick each other’s minds on what works in their areas and what might work in ours. But that is also a very key time when we can get in front of government ministers and officials to directly bring our concerns and ideas to them,” he said.
The county’s Ag Fieldman Darrel VanArragon resigned partway through the year and staff had to do some quick adjusting and were able to get current Assistant Ag fieldman Kevin Jesske to oversee the department.
“I think our staff adjusted well and we’re well positioned moving forward for next year now in our Ag department,” he said.
Summer in the county this year was a little more normal with having some rain days whereas the past few years have been dry.
“The Ag community, overall, I think had a good year, said Wikkerink.
Wikkerink commended the grader and mower crews for doing a great job through the weather events that blew through the county.
Also, in 2020, a couple of county road project were set aside in favour of some road building work for Berkshire Hathaway’s Rattlesnake Ridge wind project- which is set to commence next spring.
The municipality is also doing some additional work for Capital Power’s Whitla Wind farm as well next spring.
“We tend to have to pick up some of that type of work to then help us fund some of the other work that we do,” he said.
“It’s not like that we’re purposely out there trying to take work away from the contractors that are in the area. I guess we got this equipment sitting there, that was there for building roads and there’s times where we just got to go build some roads for somebody who needs them to make some money, so we can come back and do some of our projects.”
It is expected in 2021 that the new administration building will break ground as well as the Ag department being moved to the public works building.
“I believe the documents are getting very close to where shortly into the New Year, that stuff’s going to be going out for tender,” said Wikkerink.
County residents will notice several projects moving forward moving forward in 2021 including Capital Power’s Whitla Wind farm Phase 2 commencing and the possibility of Phase 3 in the spring, Rattlesnake Ridge’s Wind farm starting, Enerfin will be doing work on the Winnifred wind project and two of the three solar projects will be ongoing.
The county will see their first taxation money from windmill projects in the New Year.
Solar project taxation will be coming in 2022 and the two new wind projects- Rattlesnake and Winnifred- will be paying taxes to the county in 2023.