By Cole Parkinson
The year 2021 has finally come to a close and the new year is well underway.
At the Municipal District of Taber, Reeve Merrill Harris and council have been offered a quick chance to reflect on the past year before kicking full gear into the new year after the Christmas break.
While the previous year left plenty unresolved, the M.D. was able to highlight several areas they want to see improved in the new year.
One of the high priorities for the municipality in 2022 is improving Internet access across the more rural parts of the M.D.
“The need for better rural Internet has been demonstrated over and over as a result of the pandemic with so many meetings going on through Zoom. Many citizens who aren’t close to a town or village, face huge hurdles participating in these types of meetings. The M.D. has partnered with Tango Networks to identify Internet Service Providers who are interested in developing broadband service and to apply for grants from the federal and provincial governments to build better Internet availability throughout the M.D.,” explained Harris.
Council also was in discussions with the Town of Taber around their Intermunicipal Development Plan. The two municipalities are excited at the prospect of continuing to grow and collaborate together in the new year.
“We held a Joint Public Hearing with the Town of Taber in February to adopt the Intermunicipal Development Plan, which is a joint growth strategy for the two municipalities. This document acknowledges the need for a collaborative approach to land use and planning. It was the result of a lot of effort on the part of the Town and M.D. administrative teams and Bonnie Brunner from ORRSC (Oldman River Regional Services Commission).”
No one can argue that 2021 offered plenty of challenges for everyone in Alberta, but the M.D. was still able to accomplish plenty on their plate.
With tons of projects started and completed throughout 2021, Harris highlighted a few projects that the municipality was particularly proud of.
The first of which was the completion of the Vauxhall Truck Stop, which saw its grand opening in the fall. Back in June 2020, the M.D. of Taber approved the tender price of $1,808,297.80 as submitted by East Butte Contracting, with the first $1.5 million coming from the province.
“The Vauxhall Truck Stop was completed this year and officially opened in September. Large trucks now have a place to safely get off the road and drivers get some rest. This was done in partnership with Alberta Transportation,” confirmed Harris.
Another massive project that got started and is still on the go is the Horsefly Spillway project.
“We were able to get the Horsefly Regional Emergency Spillway project funded from the provincial and federal governments and our municipal partners and the local irrigation districts. This project, estimated cost of $47,000,000, will provide a relief valve, so to speak, in the event of heavy rainstorms or snow melts and overland flooding. The SMRID (St. Mary River Irrigation District) main canal will be emptied through the Horsefly-Taber Lake canal system and water dropped back into the Oldman River.”
Another project that finally started gaining traction in 2021 was the RenuWell project that sees abandoned oil and gas sites used for solar energy development. The M.D. and RenuWell group are hopeful to finally get panels up within the next several months.
“The RenuWell project has jumped through all the regulatory hoops and got development permits for their projects to turn a couple of old oil well sites into small scale solar developments. This development will happen in 2022,” continued Harris.
The final project highlighted was the completion of the Township 8 Range 16 drainage project.
“The Township 8 Range 16 drainage project was completed including the wetlands portion which will see the stormwater travel through the wetlands before being dumped into the Horsefly Reservoir. This project will help mitigate and control overland flooding in this portion of the M.D.,” stated Harris.
In the fall, the M.D. also saw several new people at the table. While Harris, Division 2 Coun. John Turcato, Division 4 Coun. Tamara Miyanaga, and Division 6 Coun. Murray Reynolds all returned, the M.D. saw three new councillors join the municipality.
In Division 3, Brian Hildebrand was elected, Division 5 saw John DeGroot added, and Division 7 saw a new face in Chantal Claassen. Harris says he’s excited to work with council in the new year.
“Every individual around the council table has opinions and ideas on how to move the M.D. forward and how to make the M.D. a favourable place to do business and raise a family.”
But as council turns its focus to the new year, like usual, there is plenty on the to-do list. Starting the year, Harris says the group has a particular focus that has been an issue for most municipalities across southern Alberta.
“Rural Ambulance Service. Something needs to be done so that rural ambulances don’t get sucked into the larger centres when they have ambulance shortages. Also, the shortage of paramedics needs to be addressed. This is being brought forward to our MLAs and the Health Minister.”
Another continuing problem is rural crime — and with the provincial government’s sustained discussions around introducing a provincial police force, the M.D. is hoping for a resolution on that front. The municipality is still sceptical of how a provincial police force would be an upgrade over the RCMP.
“Rural crime is always an issue and with the help of the RCMP, we are addressing this issue,” added Harris. “The provincial government’s push to replace the RCMP with an Alberta provincial police force. We have yet to be convinced that transitioning to APPS will save money, or provide any better service than we have now.”
Despite those questions, the group is excited to get to work on a number of things in 2022.
“The province announced 200,000 new irrigation acres. We are working to determine how we need to prepare, Infrastructure wise, (roads etc) for the additional road use that irrigation brings. We want to be prepared rather than be reactionary,” continued Harris.
They are also focused on continuing to provide as much as support as possible to grow the three hamlets within the M.D. — Enchant, Grassy Lake, and Hays.
“Growth in the hamlets of Enchant and Grassy Lake is requiring the M.D. to develop new residential and possibly more commercial lots in these two hamlets. This growth, and demand for new lots, is an indicator that the M.D. is in fact a good place to live and do business,” confirmed Harris.
Another exciting prospect is the future development of the twinning of Highway 3 east of Taber.
“The M.D., along with the Highway 3 Twinning Development Association, lobbied hard for the twinning of Highway 3. We look forward to shovels hitting the ground in 2022. The safety of the travelling public was a high priority, as well as the safe and efficient movement of goods and services were high council priorities,” stated Harris.
And with flooding always a concern across the municipality in the spring, council and administration is also keeping their eye on spots across the M.D. that are of high concern.
“Looking at overland flooding in the northern portion of the M.D. is also something we will be looking at, and what we can do to mitigate that,” added Harris.