Needs vs Wants.
That was the debate at a special council meeting on Monday night over a review of the 2016 capital budget. Mayor Melissa Blake and councillors entertained an administrative recommendation that 89 projects be suspended for six weeks in order for staff to review their scope and timeliness, ultimately passing an amendment to prioritize the design of rural water and sewage piping systems.
Council heard from over a dozen delegates from Conklin, Gregoire Lake Estates, and Anzac who demanded basic services for their communities. They were concerned that the administration recommendation would delay water and sewage piping another construction season, forcing residents to live with a “water anxiety” that urban dwellers don’t need to worry about.
“This isn’t a want from us, this is a need,” said long-time Anzac resident Nicole Gardner. “It’s time for us to be equal, and to be just as safe as Fort McMurray.”
A critical safety problem that was exposed during the fire was a lack of hydrants in rural communities. Since there is no water being pumped through pipes, hydrants aren’t present in the outer hamlets, including Anzac.
“We could have done a better fight, a bigger fight,” said Anzac Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Woytkiw. “If we had hydrants, the firefighters could do their job better.”
As Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Scoble put it to council, the reason the piping projects were recommended for suspension was due to a timing issue, not money. He noted that the fire had delayed construction on several key “pathway projects” to provide piped water and sewage to the hamlets, including the Saprae Creek Trail lift station and mobile sewage station in Conklin.
“With losing the time that we have, it’s really not practical to start (piping) this year,” he said.
Due to losing two months of construction, Scoble said that it would be better to get a fresh start on construction in the spring of 2017.
With council passing the design phases, that’s exactly what will happen.
“We can finish up all the design work,” Scoble said. “So we can put shovels in the ground as soon as we’re able to next spring.”
The $50 million Conklin Multiplex was among the projects that were still put on the suspended list, which administration will prepare a more detailed report on for the July 19 meeting.