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Redford Welcomed as Premier-Elect, But Criticism Starts
Premier-elect Alison Redford received a warm welcome from Alberta’s opposition leaders this past week, but there is already criticism for some of her first moves. Among those welcoming Redford was Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party. Her take on Redford’s victory was that the conservative party shows that the Tories are becoming more main-stream in their views, and no longer stuck with hard-line conservatism.
Smith also noted the vast difference in voting numbers this year when compared to 2006. During that year 144,000 votes were cast. This past party leader election only saw 78,000 votes. Smith takes this as evidence that the Tory party is loosing membership. Even so, Smith is pleased that a more moderate personality won the premiership.
Brian Mason, who is the ND leader, also saw Redford’s election as a positive step. He is also pleased that a woman won the top job. Reality does mean that Redford won’t be able to enact all of her visions because she still must answer to her conservative base. Raj Sherman, the Liberal leader is of the same opinion. Redford will no doubt need the support of all the parties to be successful.
Redford has already altered her plans somewhat, after a meeting with her caucus. Originally the intent was to forego a fall legislative session, but that has changed. There is too much to do to wait. Also at issue is Redford’s promise of fixed election dates and the announcement that there would be one within 12 months. Others are critical of her not attending the Keystone Pipeline hearings in Washington D.C.
Wet Sturgeon County Weather Delaying Henday Construction
It’s been a rainy summer in Sturgeon County . That rain has slowed the progress of the Anthony Henday Drive project, but not enough, according to the project manager, to keep the roadway from opening on time. Mark Basher expects the October opening date to be doable, at least for the major portion of the road. Some of the cross streets may be delayed, along with the planned new bridges. Everything is just too wet and soggy.
Since the first day of June, the Sturgeon County area has seen 32 days of rain. This has meant the importation of more construction personnel to catch up on time lost by the unseasonal storms. The work schedule also had to be tweaked, since some projects are able to be handled in wetter conditions. Subcontractors, all local firms, are being called in to fill in some of the gaps.
Some landscaping and paving at Riel Park has also been delayed by rain. Another project on Fallstaff Avenue is also behind, slowed by gas line problems. Construction crews had to push the finish date back a week and a half because of the need to coordinate with the power company, ATCO Gas.
Tracy Allen, who is the capital project manager for the city, advised that the Fallstaff Avenue project should finish close to the end of August, as long as the rain lets up. That is not too far off from the original due date.
Sturgeon County Passes Financial Audit with Flying Colours
Sturgeon County went through a municipal audit on its records for 2010 and everything is on the up and up. Phil Dirks, who is with the firm Hawkings Epp Dumont LLP, reported their findings on Tuesday to the County Council. Dirks gave the firm’s opinion and an overview of Sturgeon County’s statement of finances.
Current assets amount to $27,234,753 most of which is in short term investments and $12,435,336 in cash. As of December 31st of 2010, the county had $44,094,451 in debt. Of that $19,300,280 consisted of long term debt, $8,157,939 was in accrued liabilities and accounts payable and the final $16,636,232 consists of deferred revenue.
Net municipal taxes for 2010 were $24,479,219. Property taxes brought in two thirds of that years revenue, amounting to $33,811,636. Expenses for the year totaled $34, 593,700. That does mean Sturgeon County has a deficit for 2010 of $782,064. Almost 25 percent of expenses went to the upkeep of roadways and the storm drainage system. General administration accounted for $5,850,792 out of the budget, the second highest amount.
Salaries for the council were also disclosed as part of the audit. Don Rigney, the Mayor received $87,172 consisting of a base salary amount of $70,216, benefits totaling $9,756 and an honorarium of $7,200. Don McGeachy, Councillor from Division one took in $68,834, Tom Flynn from Division 2 received $64,283, Ken McGillis got $54,123, Jo Mulligan’s figure came in at $60,082, Karen Shaw took in $66,960, Jerry Kaup received $40,203 and David Kluthe, who replaced Jerry Kaup in Division 4, took in $10,732.
Water Levels Rising on the Sturgeon River
St Albert residents are keeping an eye on the Sturgeon River, which is rising rapidly. The river, which is already higher than the high-water mark of 2007, has flooded a bike path under Ray Gibbon Drive and some of the new plantings that were part of the River Edge Enhancement Project that is near St Albert Centre. You could say the river edge just moved a tad.
Some fields have already turned into lakes. A confused flock of swans, who normally would be spending their down time on Big Lake, is now splashing about in some of the flooded farmland near Wal-Mart. City workers have been placing sandbags along the Sturgeon in case they are needed.
Leah Jackson, who is the environmental manager for the city, attributes the flooding to the heavy snowfall this winter, combined with the recent heavy rains. The river is expected to peak within the next few weeks. In the meantime, city workers are also checking the river for ice jams or beaver dams that may make things worse.
Though the water is high, the Sturgeon is still below the water mark of the official hundred year flood. Larry Wilkins, owner of River House Grill, notes that the river is indeed high, but not near record levels of the past. Wilkins advised that the Sturgeon needs to rise another half metre before his business, which is right on the riverbank, floods.
Sturgeon County Roads See Plenty of Flooding
Sturgeon County is seeing massive road closures because of all that snow that is gradually turning to water. The latest dump of snow has caused the melt to slow considerably, but once the weather warms up there will be more of the frozen white stuff turning to liquid. At present Highway 239 that runs between Highway 37 and Highway 643 has been shut down because of flooding. Drivers are being rerouted to Highway 643 or the alternate Highway 28A for the time being.
As far as local roads, quite a few are either closed completely or drivers are simply being asked to avoid them if possible. On the closed list are Township Road 552 between Route 825 and Range Road 825, Township Road 551 from Range Road 250 and Route 245 and Township Road 555A from Route 230 to Route 225. People trying to take Estate Way through the Sturgeon Industrial Park will have no luck. That route is closed from Range Road 225 to 251 and also near Park Lane.
Drivers are asked to avoid Route 225 where it runs north of Township Route 552 and Range Road 244. Township Road 564 where it runs from between Range Roads 240 and 241 also has plenty of water covering the roadway. The same for Township Road 540 where is runs west of Range Roads 262 and 540A. City crews are working overtime to get the streets up and running.
Sturgeon County Considering $250K Grant Toward Morinville Cultural Centre
A grant for a new cultural centre in Morinville hinges upon whether the town’s residents will receive the same treatment as county residents. Before it commits a $250,000 grant, Sturgeon County Council requires that rates must be identical for both town and county citizens.
According to Councillor Karen Shaw, the county is investigating its contributions to cultural and recreational facilities in its towns. She said that if it is discovered that Sturgeon’s payments are inadequate, the county must increase them in order to pay its fair share.
The cultural centre, scheduled to open late this year, is expected to cost approximately $12 million. No increases are seen with regard to construction prices, but the $12 million price does not include expenses for equipment for a performance area or a kitchen.
Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi commented that he asked Sturgeon County to commit $3 million toward the centre’s construction, but he said he is grateful for the $250,000 might receive. Similar facilities have been built with the same type of grant in other towns. For example, the grant award helped to build the Servus Credit Union Place, located in St. Albert.
Bertschi acknowledged that city officials are still trying to determine what constitutes an appropriate kind of contribution. He added that Morinville has an agreement with Sturgeon County that permits county users to pay the same rates as town users in venues such as the arena and the curling rink. The cultural centre would ask town and county residents to pay the same amount in rates through June, he said, but the fee situation would be reconsidered when a final amount has been received from the county.
Housing Starts Slower in 2011 than 2010 for Edmonton
Housing starts were down this past February in Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan and Strathcona County. In the latter, there were 13 single family home starts in February and 27 in January of this year. In February of 2010 there were 39 new single family home starts. As far as multi-unit starts, this year saw six starts in February, 12 this past January and 16 in February of 2010.
In Fort Saskatchewan, February saw 18 single family home starts and four multi-family unit starts for a total of 22 new housing starts. In February of 2010, there were 44 housing starts, making this year’s numbers a full 50 percent less. Taking January and February of 2011 and comparing them to the same two months in 2010 and housing starts are 63.5 percent less.
Reports just released from the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation, or the CMHC, showed that 360 single family homes got their start in Edmonton this past February, 26 percent less than in 2010. In the multi-unit category, comparing those same two months showed a 15 percent decrease for 2011.
Richard Goatcher, who is a senior analyst with the CMHC in Edmonton, believes that during March and April the region will see an improvement. He also notes that inventories of homes are better stocked this year, thus less of a need to build.
Building of North West’s Upgrader in Sturgeon County Considered Economic Boost
Don Rigney, Mayor of Sturgeon County is pleased about the deal with North West to build an upgrader in his territory. True, there will be more traffic on the roads, but there will also be more jobs, more business for retailers and restaurants as well as an increased property tax base. Rigney believes that tax base will be almost double, and that is a very welcome benefit. Projects that were previously put on hold, such as a new fire hall near the upgrader site, will most likely be able to move forward.
Once online, the upgrader is expected to process some 150,000 barrels of bitumen each day. Cost to build the plant is roughly $15 billion for all three phases. Construction is expected to take the better part of a decade. North West chose the site because it had easy access from Highway 643. But there are people not so thrilled with the project and its location.
Some residents are concerned with health issues and the effect the upgrader will have on the environment. Others are worried about how the county roads are going to hold up with the increased traffic, much of it heavy machinery and large trucks. A group called the Citizens for Responsible Development has already made their objections known. Both the local government and North West are working together to minimize potential problems and work with the neighbouring communities.
Sturgeon County’s Excessive Snow Fall Keeps Workers Busy
So far this winter St. Albert, Morinville and Sturgeon County have gotten plenty of snow. That has kept crews busy ploughing, sanding and shovelling the white stuff off of roadways and city streets. The weather has not cooperated either. It would snow, then the temperatures dropped to almost record lows and the snow removal equipment broke down. Then more snow, and then the weather got warm, turning all that white stuff to gray, soggy slush. More equipment break downs.
Despite that, Claude Valcourt, the public works director for Morinville, has gotten few complaints from residents. Most understood that this was an unusual amount of snow. Explanations of the situation to those that voiced concern was usually enough to sooth ruffled feathers.
Workers in Morinville typically remove the snow down to the bare pavement if possible. With the excessive snow amounts, in some areas they weren’t able to do this. Their priority was the main roads, 100th Street and 100th Avenue because they saw the most traffic. The residential areas are divided into five areas, each with a scheduled plough day.
Sturgeon County got it share of complaints about slow snow removal. They have 13 graders that take care of 2,000 kilometres of roadway, much of it in rural areas. Carillon Canada takes care of the provincial highways. The county also offers residents in rural area the option for the country to plough their private driveways at $70 per driveway.
Air Canada and WestJet Have Good 2010, Ticket Prices Set to Rise
Even though December’s numbers were not as high as the same month in 2009, more people are flying on both WestJet and Air Canada, prompting both airlines to start raising ticket prices. Granted, they are testing the waters with moderate increases but both firms are confident that they will see more people flying in 2011.
Part of the increase is because of the cost of airline fuel which continues to rise. It is either raise ticket prices or charge a fuel surcharge, something that usually creates more static than it’s worth. Just how much airline tickets ultimately go up pretty much depends on the flying public.
A load factor on a plane is an average of how many seats were filled with paying passengers. During this past December Air Canada showed a load factor of 80.8 percent, compared to 81.2 percent in December of 2009. WestJet showed similar load factor numbers, 80.3 percent this December compared to 81.6 percent from December in 2009.
Both carriers showed an increase in the number of passengers and the number of miles flown. Air Canada’s increased presence on Pacific Rim routes led to a 23.8 percent increase in traffic in that part of the world. At the end of 2010, Air Canada showed an increase in traffic of 8.3 percent and WestJet a 12.9 percent increase over figures in 2009.
St. Albert’s Infrastructure Well Cared For, In Healthy Shape
St. Albert’s infrastructure is in good shape. The city does have a deficit in that part of the budget, but that is normal for most municipalities. The engineering department keeps finding ways of keeping things running while bringing that deficit down. The city’s assets are in good shape as well. City council’s finance committed received this information this past Monday.
St. Albert has been more proactive on its infrastructure issues since 2003. It was then that the city completed the first part of a review of the entire system, noting the physical assets, how much it would cost to replace them and how much annually it would take for maintenance. Another study was done in 2005 that took into account the effect the deterioration of infrastructure had on safety and lifestyle.
Both studies showed that St. Albert was not spending enough money on maintenance, but that most of the overall infrastructure was still in good condition. The latter study, in 2005 advised that the city spend from $20 to $25 million per year on maintenance. Currently the budget is around $15 million annually.
St. Albert has pulled information from both studies to help them prioritize what should be taken care of first, and when. The new program includes inspecting one third of the roads each year, doing structural checks on the bridges every three years and more frequent inspections of storm drains and wastewater collection systems. Mayor Nolan Crouse was pleased with the more efficient planning of the engineering department, particularly when it’s time to submit budget requests.
Proposed Sturgeon County Budget Would Mean 6.1 Percent Property Tax Hike
Councilors for Sturgeon County don’t want to pass the budget as it currently stands. They are trying to find more ways to cut costs to avoid giving homeowners an increase of 6.1 percent on their property taxes. That amounts to about $73 per year on a $400,000 home or just under $17 on a $40,000 piece of farmland.
Dave Kluthe, the newly elected representative from Division 4 believes the hike is too high. Council has only had the budget for a week and Kluthe, along with others is still crunching numbers and looking for ways to pare down spending. Karen Shaw, councilor from Division 6 believes the budget represents the administration’s wish list and it is up to the council to decide what Sturgeon County can afford.
Part of the tax increase, 1.8 percent is slated for payment of debts associated with the 195th Avenue project in 2010. Pipelines and other industrial properties have had lower yields, in turn lowering payments to the county. That accounts for 1.7 percent of the hike. Capital projects are taking another 1.94 percent. Currently there are more than $16 million worth of projects being considered, with much of the funds coming from provincial grants.
Meetings to review the budget have already started and will continue until it passes sometime in December. Council will be taking a look at the projects and at county spending in general to see if they can feasibly cut any corners. Shaw also believes that the county could take some funds from its reserve accounts, which currently hold some $10 million.
Alberta Health Services Health Care Study Missing Data from Busy Sturgeon ER
Not all hospitals in the province of Alberta have the software needed to track patient care times and Sturgeon Hospital is one of them. This means that the survey conducted by the Alberta Health Services (AHS) is largely incomplete. Only Edmonton and Calgary hospitals were able to supply the needed data. Considering that the province is trying to put together a new health care plan, this doesn’t make any sense.
The needed data was to track a patient’s wait time from the moment they were first seen in the ER until they were admitted into the hospital, if that became necessary. The target is to have 45 percent of patients make the journey within an eight hour window. Wait times varied widely, even between those hospitals that were able to provide data.
As an example, the Stollery Children’s Hospital exceeding the goal, with 64 percent of the patients being taken care of during the eight hours. At the University of Alberta and Royal Alexandra hospitals, their ERs only met goal 28 percent of the time. The other data being tracked was for patients that were treated and then discharged. The target for that is 70 percent of patients within four hours. The only hospital that made that goal was the Stollery Children’s Hospital, with a 75 percent rate.
The thing about leaving Sturgeon’s ER out of the equation is that over 50 percent of the patients brought by ambulance are from Edmonton, and this facility is very, very busy. The central dispatch system tells the paramedics which hospital to take their patients to. Bottom line is that AHS is not getting a true picture of patient needs for the province which makes creating a plan to meet those needs almost a shot in the dark.
Sturgeon County Sets Aside $400,000 for Heartland Transmission Project Study
Sturgeon County is going to kick in $400,000 to the Alberta Utility Commission’s (AUC) hearing/study of the proposal to run power lines from sub stations west of Edmonton’s city limits to the Industrial Heartland. These lines are intended to power upgraders yet to be built. One item that is of prime importance is the route these lines will take.
The preferred route runs along the eastern edge of Edmonton, heading north next to Anthony Henday Drive to Sturgeon County. Another route being considered is one that heads west and enters Sturgeon County near Calahoo and Villeneuve and then starts to turn northward just past Morinville.
The $400,000 is set aside to fund the hiring of external legal and consultant staff to oversee the application process. This is expected to last as long as into the summer of 2011. Another issue, besides the routes is where the funding for the lines is coming from and who, ultimately will pay for it…translation…will taxes go up?
Getting the line approved may be a bit of an uphill battle. Some Sturgeon County residents don’t see the need for the line at all and are diabolically opposed to the idea. The negotiating and education of all begins on Nov 4th when the Sturgeon Blue Line Group holds an information meeting at Morinville Parish Hall. The public is invited to hear Joe Anglin and Keith Wilson, two experts on the Heartland Transmission Project.
STARS Celebrates 25 Years
On Saturday, October 9, STARS marked its twenty-fifth anniversary by celebrating support and holding an open house.
Glory Yorgason, whose life was saved by STARS, has no problem encouraging people to support STARS. Yorgason supported the calendar program before her accident but said she is now more aware of STARS’ scope.
In 2003, Yorgason and her husband hit a moose on Highway 14. Yorgason’s knuckles were broken, her wrist crushed and shattered, and her heart stopped beating. Three days later, Yorgason awoke in hospital with no recollection of that night. After three weeks, despite brain trauma, she returned to work.
Yorgason said that hope for her survival was small, but attributes her survival to the quick transport and medical attention from STARS. While she can’t sleep lying down, she has overcome driving fears and cooks Christmas dinner every year for STARS paramedics on duty. She also bakes a birthday cake for Brenda Barr, her STARS paramedic.
In its 25 years, STARS Air Ambulance has flown nearly 20,000 missions in Alberta. The organization flies five helicopters that can travel 250 kilometres. Two are in Edmonton, two are in Calgary and one is in Grande Prairie.
Only 25 per cent of STARS funding comes from the government, and the remaining 75 per cent comes from donations.
Raymond Como in Edmonton University Hospital after Farming Mishap
Raymond Como still works his farm in the Riviere Qui Barre area of Sturgeon County. He is 82 years old. He almost always works alone. Last Friday he was servicing his combine and slipped. Como became trapped in an awkward, upside down position inside the engine. He was head down and his arms and legs were wrapped around the fan and the pulleys. Saturday morning the man was found by his son-in-law.
An ambulance was called but it was soon apparent that Como would have to be cut out of the machine. The Morinville Fire department responded and began carefully cutting the machine from around his body. As soon as he was out he was airlifted by STARS helicopter ambulance to Edmonton’s University Hospital, where he remains.
Como is recovering but he may be in hospital for nearly a month. Neighbors, including Jerry Kaup, a Sturgeon County Councilor, will take care of harvesting his crops. Kaup noted that this sort of accident is a reminder that while working alone is either preferable or a necessity for some, it might be a good idea to keep in touch with neighbours during the process.
Raymond Como works land that has been in his family since 1908. He recently received Sturgeon County’s 100 Year Farm Family Award.
Sturgeon County Signs on Hold
Sturgeon County councillors have tabled their decision on bids to create the 12 county entrance signs. Councillors also sent back administration to re-evaluate the process and bidders.
When county administration put out requests for project quotes, only four companies placed bids. Administration narrowed their choices to Virgil’s Welding Services and Craig’s Welding, eventually recommending Craig’s Welding. Craig’s Welding requested $20,000 more, a figure some councillors struggled with. Virgil’s Welding Services wanted the county to provide lettering design and the logo, a requirement that would force Sturgeon County to hire a third party.
Because of this request, administration recommended Craig’s Welding, but county councillors aren’t willing yet to support administration’s recommendation. Councillor’s unanimously decided to table their decision.
Councillor Jerry Kaup suggested that a new request for quotes go out, but Mayor Rigney decided the process would be too difficult as the county has already received quotes.
Sturgeon County has committed a maximum of $85,000 for the project, with $10,000 going to placement of the signs and $75,000 going to sign production. Six signs for the primary highways were to be created and placed in 2010 with the remaining six for the secondary highways created and placed in 2011.
The county’s current signs are several decades old and decorated with the old logo.
Despite Challenges, Ethiopian Children Thriving in Adoptive Home
The Kostelyk family adopted two young children from Ethiopia last year. The children, four-year-old Sedaya and seven-year-old Elijah, came from an adoption agency that had gone bankrupt, and had been given only one meal daily for the agency’s last six weeks in existence.
The children represent the eighth and ninth members of the Kostelyks. Sharla Kostelyk, the children’s adoptive mother, said there were many hurdles the family had to encounter. In addition to the lack of food, there was a language barrier. The only dialect the children spoke was Amharic. The children were nervous and anxious during the 40-hour plane ride from Ethiopia to Canada.
Now that they have been in their new home for a year, Elijah has grown six inches and has gained an appropriate amount of weight. His sister is also doing well. Kostelyk said that despite being informed that it is more difficult for older children to develop relationships with adoptive parents, she has not experienced that situation with Elijah and Sedaya. She said that the crisis involving the adoption agency’s closing and possible endangerment of the children has strengthened their bond. She also noted that she has eight years’ worth of experience in being a foster parent.
The Kostelyks’ other children have helped to ease the transition with Sedaya and Elijah. When the newest family members were able to witness the mutual love and trust between the parents and existing children, it seemed to facilitate their own interactions with the family.
The Ethiopian children are being home-schooled. They are also enjoying soccer, art courses and swim lessons.
Crescent Playground Gets Plenty of Attention and a Screaming Orange Slide
The Canadian Forces Base in Edmonton has three new brightly colored playgrounds to tempt youngsters of all ages. Crescent Park now has a twisty new slide the colour of a very ripe pumpkin, along with a jungle gym and other equipment in bold greens, golds and purples.
The new park was celebrated with a parade, complete with pipes and drums that led the kids, parents and visiting officials around the park, Pied Piper style. The ribbon was cut and there was a mad scramble to see who got to initiate that screaming orange slide.
The money came from Sturgeon County in the form of a $250,000 grant. Two other base parks, Gopher Park, used for very young children and Triangle Park, catering to those a bit older, also got facelifts. Adults will also get their own playground of sorts. There is enough left over to build a base driving range for golf enthusiasts.
The grant is part of a five year program intended to promote fitness in Sturgeon County. The base, which has a large number of families with small children, was a perfect candidate to receive some of that money. The playgrounds opened on July 20th.
How to Get More From Your Real Estate Dollar
Despite some modest increases, mortgage rates continue to be low. With an inventory of many homes available, buyers have the upper hand in today’s real estate market. If you are thinking about buying a home or some land, or adding to your existing portfolio, here are some ways to maximize your dollars and improve your overall finances.
You may be able to use your home as your place of employment if you work in certain fields. Be sure to review your community’s zoning rules before declaring yourself open for business. If you telecommute, you can use your home office as a tax deduction.
Make your home a multi-family residence. If the word “roommate” conjures up visions of flat beer and cold pizza in your college dorm, reconsider how renting out part of your home can generate significant money. Rental income can allow you to pay a major portion of your mortgage.
Parking spots are golden, especially in major metro areas. If your condominium unit or apartment comes with a parking space that you do not use, you may be able to rent it on a monthly basis. Check your homeowner association’s bylaws to make sure your parking spot can be leased.
If you have lots of unused space in your basement, you may be sitting on a potential profit area. Consider renting this space to people who live in cramped quarters. Be sure you know what you will be storing, however, and draft a contract for your renter to sign. You want to make sure you are not storing illegal or dangerous items, and you’ll want to indemnify yourself against any liability.
If you own acreage in an area popular with tourists, consider renting part of your property to campers or recreational vehicle travellers. Or, to generate some big dollars, you may want to rent your entire home as a vacation property. If you are planning to take a vacation, check out websites in which people trade homes.
If you already own a home, use whatever equity you have to qualify for home equity credit lines at your local bank. Your home would be used as collateral in this type of loan.
Owning property is also a great way to save on your taxes. You can deduct a lot of money from mortgage interest, property taxes and closing fees.
There was a brief period a few years ago in which people were able to “flip” real estate and make huge profits. Those days are gone. However, with still-low interest rates, real estate is still a great investment. If you can hold onto your home or investment property for a number of years, chances are you will attain a profit when it is time to sell.
Alberta’s Heartland Getting An Unwanted Facelift – Anti-Industrial Protests Flourish
Alberta’s heartland is in need of a bypass or at the least a stent or two. Its wide open spaces are being clogged by oil industry giants and one area that is suffering the most damage is Sturgeon County. This rural community is being faced with the building of a bitumen upgrader by French owned Total on what was prime farmland. This upgrader will take up 364 hectares of heartland space and would sit between the Dow Chemical company and Shell’s Scotland refinery and their upgrader.
A public hearing is scheduled this week at Fort Saskatchewan and those who live in Sturgeon County will be out in force with the full backing of the Sierra Club. The organization put together a bus tour in which 80 people got to see first hand what was happening in the area. It is now euphemistically called Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.
The Sierra Club and heartland residents are at odds with businesses and municipalities who are in favour of the project because of the anticipated $8 billion the upgrader will add to the economy. The Sierra Club, along with Greenpeace and those in Sturgeon County who refused to sell their lands to the oil giants will try to stop the project.
There are health concerns about the increased industrialization of what was once a very rural part of Alberta. Fears of oil or gas related industrial accidents or mishaps are well founded. If there are any doubts of that, just take a look at what is going on south of Canada’s border.
Scholarships Aim To Help Metis Students
Belcourt Brosseau Metis Awards is one of the biggest private scholarship funds, administered over 100 scholarships totalling $13 million by the Edmonton Community Foundation (ECC). On average, recipients receive approximately $5,000 to pay for books and tuition.
This year, a record number of applicants applied for the awards, and they range from single mothers to cancer survivors to a cadet who heads his own private company.
Applicants must show maturity, the ability to succeed and a connection to their Metis heritage.
Herb Belcourt, Orval Belcourt and George Brosseau created the scholarship fund in 1971. Canative Housing Corporation, a corporation that provided Metis people moving to Calgary or Edmonton with rental property, closed in 2001 and was left with 150 properties to sell.
As the corporation was non-profit, the money couldn’t be divided so the men instead invested in the ECC. Herb Belcourt considers the rent paid by the tenants as an investment towards their grandchildren’s education.
Seven judges from the Metis community will choose recipients on June 16; approximately half of the 240 applicants will be selected for scholarships. According to the awards group, around 95 per cent of students finish their studies.
The success rate doesn’t make the decisions any easier, but Belcourt says it is important for the Metis to support each other through tough times, and to him, the scholarship investment does just that.
Sturgeon County Ready to Leave IDP
Sturgeon County councillors voted unanimously to leave the Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) and sent their notice.
Don Rigney, Sturgeon County’s Mayor, said that with Municipal Government Act and the Capital Region Board’s ability to overtake the IDP, it has no reason to remain.
The IDP was created in 2001 between St. Albert and Sturgeon County as an agreement that dealt with the boundary that separated them. The communities could review, approve and reject proposed developments and always had an agreement that enabled one side to leave with 60 days notice.
In earlier 2010, both communities discussed amending the plan with the removal of the Quail Ridge subdivision proposal in Sturgeon Valley, the Northern Lights subdivision and all of St. Albert’s annexed lands. Councillors agreed to continue with the Northern Lights subdivision moves but decided instead of making the other changes to get rid of the document.
Sturgeon Mayor Don Rigney and Councillor Don McGeachy said the IDP interfered with both parties’ growth and St. Albert Councillor James Burrows agreed, saying the move made sense.
With the IDP dissolved, Burrows said St. Albert will have its chance to plan on proposed industrial study areas and annexed lands without Sturgeon County’s interference.
A public meeting and council meeting between the two communities will need to take place and Sturgeon County is required to give three readings to the repeal bylaw.
Sturgeon County in the red
For the second-year running Sturgeon County will have a deficit at the end of the year. This is due to the high price of fighting the Redwater fire, which cost the County $1 million and forced the Council to dip into the operating reserve.
Funds of $280,000 were transferred from the general operating reserve to cover the deficit, but it is hoped a provincial grant of $400,000 will help offset the cost of the fire. However, if the grant fails to materialize, the County’s deficit will increase.
Rolland Russell, the County’s manager of financial services, commented that despite the unexpected expenditure the County’s financial affairs remain strong. He added that the transfer of an amount of $280,000 is a relatively small sum out of an operating reserve of $1.6 to $1.7 million. In other areas, the County remained within budget after making a concerted effort to reduce expenditure because of the cost of the fire.
Putting things in proportion, Russell added that the deficit represented only one percent of overall costs.
On paper, the County’s deficit is much higher than $280,000. An additional $614,000 deficit relates to how prepaid taxes are reported.
In 2007, the County received $12.7 million from the Fort Hills upgrader project. These funds were used towards road upgrades that were necessary before the Fort Hills project could begin.
In 2013 or when the plant is completed, these funds will form the basis for the County to begin issuing credits against the annual property taxes of the upgraders.
Proposed power-line linked to health risks for residents
Proposals for a new high-voltage electricity line suggest a number of options. Although officials of the heartland transmission project say no decision will be made until a feasibility study by the Alberta Electric System Operator is published, they have indicated their preference for running the line through the east-transportation utility corridor.
Residents in north east Edmonton are concerned that the double-circuit 500 kilovolt line will be above ground and could cause a health risk to their families. Leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization, have expressed concern about exposure to the electromagnetic fields from high voltage wires, which have been linked to leukemia especially in children.
Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans (RETA) is a group dedicated to minimize the risk to residents from high voltage electricity line. At a meeting last November attended by 3,500 people, they called for the line to be buried near residential areas. A RETA spokesperson commented that although the new proposal includes burying the line for 20 kms of the total 65 km route along the east-transportation utility corridor, this still leaves many households along the route exposed to potentially dangerous electromagnetic fields.
Project officials from Epcor and AltaLink support their preference for the east-utility corridor because it would affect fewer residential properties than alternative routes. Epcor plans a new round of consultations with people who could be affected by the new power line. It will also issue public information packages for residents living near the four proposed routes, plus additional information to residents living close to the two preferred routes about burying the line for a portion of the route.
Alberta’s Municipalities Want to Partner to Save Taxes and Share In Oil Revenue
Political boundaries are changing in Alberta and it all has to do with oil revenue and taxes. Fort McMurray led the way by merging with the county, thus availing themselves of part of the take from the rich oil reserves in the area. At the same time, residents of Fort McMurray got a break on taxes.
Now other municipalities want to follow suit. First in line are St. Albert and Morinville which are looking into a merger with Sturgeon County that would create a regional government. Both municipalities would profit by getting more of the rural pipeline tax money and those monies generated by oil upgrader projects.
The town of Cold Lake has already asked to be dissolved and made part of the Municipal District of Bonnyville. This is contingent on an agreeable arrangement to share oil revenue profits.
Morinville wants to amalgamate with Redwater, Gibbons, Bon Accord and Legal with the intent of sharing taxes and expenses throughout the new district. Operating efficiency would go up and taxes would go down. So far, this is still in the talking about it stage.
No such amalgamation has been seen in the Edmonton area, yet. Though the powers at be in Parliament are not too enthusiastic about all the city and county restructuring, as the benefits of such partnerships become known, it may be difficult to stop the growing trend.
Canadian Curling Teams After Gold in Vancouver
Canada means to win gold at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver in curling. But for the first time Canada is not favoured in the competition. They face a threat from both China and Sweden which have really improved their game in the few years. Perhaps not being seen as the team to beat will benefit both the men’s and women’s team.
The men’s team is being led by Kevin Martin who holds a list of wins including 11 Grand Slam championships and one world title. He also won the silver medal at the 2002 Olympics. This will be his third trip to the Olympics. The men’s team is expecting to see stiff competition from Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain.
Cheryl Bernard will be leading the women’s team. China, the defending world champion team, Sweden, who took Olympic gold at the last winter games, Switzerland and Scotland will all give Canada’s team a run for their money.
Both Martin and Bernard won their Olympic slots in Edmonton this past December by coming out on top in their respective Olympic trials. Russ Howard, who won a gold medal in curling at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin believes that both players will handle the pressure well.
Curling does not get as much exposure as hockey, but the competition and drive for Canada to get into the final games and ultimately to claim gold is just as fierce. Lovers of the sport believe it shouldn’t be any other way.
Northwest Upgrading Awaiting Alberta Government Decision on Bitumen
To the north of Fort Saskatchewan in Sturgeon County there could be construction activity on a proposed bitumen upgrader project planned by Northwest Upgrading. The only thing holding things up is a contract with the Alberta Government to provide the upgrader with barrels of bitumen in need of processing. The application for the contract is due by the end of January with the decision expected some six weeks later.
If the bid is successful Northwest Upgrading can start construction in the fall on its upgrader with an expected completion date of 2013. At full capacity the upgrader can process 231,000 barrels per day. The upgrader converts bitumen to diesel and would fill a market that is considered in need of product. Since roughly a third of the Earth’s remaining oil deposits are in northern Alberta, the Northwest Upgrading project seems quite reasonable.
Almost 3,000 construction workers will be needed to complete the project, many of which are almost finished with the upgrader project at the nearby Shell facility. Rather than having to follow the work out of town to such places as Fort McMurray, these workers could just stay in the same locale. This is a particular blessing to those who have families that might be uprooted.
Materials such as pressure vessels, pumps and piping are already ordered and in storage. It’s now just a waiting game. Northwest Upgrading is hoping for the Alberta Government to make a speedy and favourable decision.
Breads, Bagels and Sweet Success
Sometimes smaller really is better. In the shadow of big box stores and mega super markets there is a bit of a revival going on in Edmonton. This revival is in the form of heavenly scented creations of flour, water, sugar and salt reminiscent of a world before mass commercialization. To put it more succinctly, in Edmonton, small town bakeries are flexing their muscles.
One of the newest bakers to take root in Edmonton is Yvan Chartrand, a native of Montreal. That very refined French flavoured city is the kingdom of the wood fired bagel and it is this treasure among others that the new owner of the Tree Stone Bakery on 99th Street is planning on bringing to town.
The Duchess Bake Shop, the Prairie Mill and the Old Fashioned Bread Bakery have all opened their independent bakery doors in the last year in Edmonton, all part of a growing trend to encourage buying local. Other local shops that Edmontonians frequently support are Kerstin’s Chocolates, Sweet Lollapalooza and Chocolate Exquisite, all in house candy makers.
Perhaps the trend for small and local will someday include an assortment of independent butchers, green grocers and that one time town fixture known as the local variety store. One cannot turn back the clock entirely, but a bit of nostalgia that supports local business and farmers is most welcome. Meanwhile the independent bakers and chocolate makers will continue to offer their sweet smelling comfort foods to all who visit.
Edmonton Area Sees Increased Home Sale Activity
With one month left in 2009, the number of homes sold in Edmonton has already surpassed the figure for the entire year of 2008. The Realtors Association of Edmonton recently reported that the number of home sales has been over 20,000 year-to-date, which surpasses the total of 19,448 homes sold in 2008. These are good signs for the struggling real estate market.
The president of the RAE announced that the activity in sales and the value of the sales have exceeded the association’s wildest expectations, and they think that it is an excellent signs for the years to come. When many people thought it would take years to see a recovery after the weakness in 2008, we have already seen the entire region and country bounce back with high-than-expected activity throughout this year.
The Edmonton area saw the average price of a single-family home rise about two percent. It is a significant increase compared to the decreases that the area saw through 2008.
Initiative Group May Disband After Months of Disagreement
A volunteer grouped that was formed to look after the Sturgeon River is probably going to disband next month despite the fact that the river’s water level continues to drop.
The Sturgeon River Watershed Initiative was created in response to the provincial government’s Water for Life strategy. The group was formed to find a way to protect the watershed that flowed from the Pembina River into the North Saskatchewan River.
Member Leah Jackson said that the group’s board of directors spent half of a year discussing ideas, but many members and representatives seemed to have opposing points of view, and no formal agreement was ever reached. The disagreement among members actually caused the board of directors to schedule a meeting for a discussion of whether the group should dissolve since no one can agree on the best procedure for protecting the watershed.
A former board member explained that part of the disagreement occurred between industrial and municipal interests that were against environmental interests. The people who benefit from killing the river simply want control of the situation, where as many environmentalists share a deep concern about the future of the waterway.
Facing Down an Unwanted Eyesore
Like me, you may have taken note recently of the new Heartland Project that involves a proposed transmission tower being erected inside of a green belt near Edmonton. For a number of reasons, citizens in the area are understandably concerned about this monstrous eyesore’s presence in an area that is not only filled populated with a wide variety of animals but with farms and ranches and idyllic countryside.
As it stands now, the plan is to build a transmission tower that reaches heights of 200 feet with a capacity of 500 kilovolts. The proposed site for the construction is near the Sturgeon River, and many of the residents in the area are quite vocal about the fact that the tower as planned will be an eyesore that they do not want or need.
While the members of the Project team cite recently-held information meetings as evidence of their compliance with the rules and standards of the utilities Board, residents point to the clandestine survey expeditions that have been made on their property when they were away.
Though there has been no formal authorization for the transmission line that is being planned, the surveying and other activity seems to indicate that both the tower and the lines are much closer to breaking construction ground than the project’s backers would have us believe.
The size of the lines has led some to question the true motivations of the Project, which is expected to have the capacity to supply power to Sturgeon and Strathcona counties – and then some. Recently, the owners have acknowledged that one of the purposes of the tower and lines is to sell excess electricity to the state of Montana in the U.S.
With the Project costing more than $10 billion, I am not alone in my view that this eyesore is seemingly being built in spite of the wishes of the people who live in the area. Even more disturbing is the fact that even though the tower is going to be erected against their will, these same residents will be expected to pay for the cost of the Project through higher utility bills.
For me, the most disturbing aspect of this entire situation may very well be that the ultimate decision on whether this project ends up being imposed on the area’s residents will ultimately be made by an energy minister who has yet to demonstrate any interest in the opposition’s opinions on the matter.
Ongoing Wage Debate In The Region
As the economy worsens in Alberta, many opponents of Premier Ed Stelmach are debating if Stelmach’s recent actions will do much to help the province’s weak economy.
Head of Alberta’s Office Opposition, Jack Flaherty, thinks that Stelmach’s recent announcements are absurd, and he believes that Stelmach should be taking more serious steps to assure that the province can generate a recovery. Many people are losing confidence in Stelmach’s ability to lead the province out of the recession.
Stelmach’s recent television address to the public about the future plans of the province was not reassuring to residents. He simply summarized the government’s message from recent month; that they will invest money in infrastructure but will otherwise limit spending so that the country can continue to see budget surpluses in years to come.
Currently there is a projected deficit of $6.9 billion for 2009. Mainly, people are upset about his announcements concerning wage freezes. He is going to freeze the wage increases of civil services managers to ensure that there will be no job cuts. Many people are skeptical that this will save jobs because the same actions were taken in the 1990s but jobs were still lost.
Stelmach has struggled to communicate with Albertans through these tough times, and the premier will receive a leadership review at the Progressive Conservative party’s yearly gathering in November.
A Look Up North - Grande Prairie Commercial Real Estate Still Strong
Despite weaknesses in the local economy, the commercial real estate market in Grande Prairie is still holding strong. While vacancies were up compared with the same period last year, 80% of all new retail space has been absorbed. As a result, the vacancy rate in the Grande Prairie market has dropped from 5.29% in the previous period to 3.40% last year.
A recent survey examined single-occupant and multiple tenant buildings in the industrial sector. The survey found that while the market could not absord all the newly created space in multiple tenant buildings, single-occupant buildings showed a decrease in the number of vacancies. Many feel this is attributable to a one-time movement to newly created space in the county and cyclical slowdowns in the oil and gas sector.
The largest increase in vacancy was in the downtown retail market. Two major downtown properties became vacant during the period, triggering this increase. Fortunately, one property has since been leased and will be converted into a wellness center, negating a substantial portion of that increase. These positive signs have reassured local merchants that vacancy rates in downtown will decrease in the coming months.
City council in Fort Saskatchewan got involved in the discussion about where the new power line should be constructed. Half of the options for the power line that have been proposed go through the city of Fort Saskatchewan’s east end, which is going to limit the amount of growth in the industrial section of the east end.
The two main power utilities are hoping to build a 500-kV line between the power plant at Wabumun and the Sturgeon County area. Council went through with passing a resolution stating that they feel that the power line plans can be moved to avoid the east Fort Saskatchewan industrial area as well as the North Saskatchewan river valley and the Beaver Hills moraine.
The City of Edmonton’s manager of public works claims there is little proof that putting the power lines underground would do anything to limit health hazards. And it would be more costly, which inevitably would be passed onto the consumer.
No easy answers on this one I’m afraid.