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Sundre drainage concern prompts lengthy council debate

Residents’ request to reimburse cost of tree removal deferred as administration directed to investigate options
Gale White and Gary Henderson, who own a property on the east side of the Red Deer River in Sundre off of 1st Avenue NE near Tall Timber behind the Mountain View Inn and Suites, addressed council as delegates on June 10 during a regular meeting. Simon Ducatel/MVP Staff

SUNDRE – A request to reimburse the cost of removing some trees brought forward to council by local property owners concerned about drainage problems on their east-side lot was recently deferred with direction for administration to investigate potential solutions.

Gale White and Gary Henderson, who own a home off of 1st Avenue NE on the east side of the Red Deer River near Tall Timber behind the Mountain View Inn and Suites, addressed council as delegates on June 10 during a regular meeting that Coun. Paul Isaac was unable to attend.

“We did advise the property owners that this is an unbudgeted item, and that the process to be reimbursed is by appearing before council with the request,” said Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, who introduced the delegates.

“This has been an ongoing matter since at least the 1970s; that’s as far back as we could go in the file for water and drainage issues,” said Nelson.

Providing an account of their situation, which for the couple dates back to the 1990s, White told council that they previously experienced a good rapport with the municipality, which in the past had ensured debris was mitigated.

Council also heard that while the situation has existed for decades, the drainage problem became even worse due to the closure of a culvert’s gate at the bridge that sent more water through their property from Bergen Road and the Sundre hill.

“(The water) no longer can bypass us, it sort of had to come through,” said White, adding further developments of the east side over time that saw more concrete and pavement added also seems to have funnelled more water through.

“All along, there have been no filtration systems since day one. So that’s why the town’s been really good about coming and making sure it’s cleaned up,” she said.

The greater volumes of storm water now flowing through have also by extension increased the rate of erosion along with the loss of some trees. Historically, White said there had been a good response from the municipality. The couple had already proceeded with hiring and paying a local contractor to remove the trees, and submitted a request seeking reimbursement for almost $3,400.

Recognizing the issue has a lengthy history with the municipality previously providing assistance, Coun. Jaime Marr asked if there has ever been a formal agreement on paper.

“Or has it just been verbal?” asked Marr.

“The town has tried to be ahead of things for us, but there is no written agreement,” said White.

Coun. Owen Petersen sought further elaboration concerning the closure of the culvert’s gate at the bridge, and White explained that when past work was completed on Highway 27 with pipes going underneath, that Alberta Environment ultimately ordered the closure.

“When the storm gates got closed, there was nowhere for (the water) to go except to come from the Bergen Road in through us and from the Sundre hill through us,” said White.

Offering council additional insight, Nelson said that when she first met the couple in 2017 after becoming Sundre’s CAO, there had been some meetings with Alberta Transportation regarding the possibility of installing an oil and grit separator just off of the highway after the culvert on the north side of the road to remove contaminants and sediment that was going through.

“We had thought at one time that we were going to get some positive results, and it never ever ended up coming through,” she said.

Coun. Connie Anderson pointed out the drainage path has always been a waterway for storm and spring runoff and had not been dug out, and White reiterated that the closure of the culvert’s gate made it worse.

“I think that this is maybe a bigger issue” than the request to reimburse the removal of trees, said Marr, expressing an interest in looking into an oil and grit separator and suggesting council further consider the matter at the fall workshop.

Coun. Chris Vardas suggested holding off to see how Alberta Transportation’s overlay project of Highway 27 that is expected to happen next year might affect runoff flow before committing to anything.

Following further back-and-forth discussion in the debate that lasted almost an hour, Marr said, “I see this issue as maybe two issues. I’d like to see something a little bit more formal put in place … a handshake doesn’t work anymore.”

Chiming in with his two cents, mayor Richard Warnock said a 1981 survey of the properties “absolutely shows a bank and a drainage area through that property” and went onto add “that’s not new; that’s been there for a long, long time.”

The mayor said the issue has been ongoing for decades and yet been resolved, and expressed a reluctance to have taxpayers foot the bill.

Petersen moved to defer the couple’s request for the time being and to direct administration to bring back options to implement potential solutions to solve the natural watercourse issues and bring further information for discussion at the fall strategic advisory committee session.

“I know this is draining – I can imagine – on you folks,” empathized Petersen, addressing the couple directly.

“However, we’re going to be dealing with this again next year, and like councillor Marr said, we can’t keep running on handshakes,” he said, adding budget expenses need to be properly factored into line items for greater planning predictability.

“Whatever the options are, then we can make a final decision moving forward. But I do not want to pay for this today, and then have to come back and do this next year and next year. We need a longer-term solution,” he said.

Coun. Todd Dalke argued in favour of providing the couple with some help sooner than later, as any actionable decisions made in the fall likely won’t be followed up on until next spring.

Marr also argued in favour of reimbursing the expense in the short-term in recognition of the historically-offered assistance, but with the understanding that informal arrangement would moving forward require an official agreement.

Expressing mixed feelings, the mayor said council was talking about making a financial decision that’s not accounted for in the budget to do work on a private property that the municipality isn’t even sure caused the problems in the first place.

“I think that has to be definitely clarified before we commit our taxpayers’ money to paying for stuff on private property,” said Warnock, expressing a concern about opening the flood gates to every other property owner with a lot that has natural drainage in the municipality.

The situation should be resolved through the proper channels, which involves working through pertinent departments and documents to determine what kind of long-term agreement – if any – would be suitable, he said.

The mayor then called for a vote on the motion, which carried with Vardas, Petersen, Anderson and Warnock in favour and Dalke and Marr opposed.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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