Sewer system ‘shovel ready’; other issues reviewed by Birchcliff councillors

A ‘shovel ready’ plan to install a sewage collection system in Birchcliff was one of many topics discussed when the summer village

A ‘shovel ready’ plan to install a sewage collection system in Birchcliff was one of many topics discussed when the summer village held its annual meeting Saturday morning.

About 30 people gave up two hours on the beautifully hot sunny day to listen to their councillors talk about the past year and plans for the future.

Deputy Mayor Thom Jewell said the community has applied to the provincial government for funding to complete the wastewater project which entails tying every lot into a collection system that would link with the regional line that takes effluent for treatment in Sylvan Lake’s lagoon system.

A lift station is being constructed at the corner of Birchcliff Road and Range Road 1-4 and should be commissioned by early next year. That opens the way for Birchcliff residents to join the system.

Jewell also noted the summer village has money available to cover its 25 per cent share of the project while they’re hoping the province will contribute 75 per cent.

“The whole project is based on the PC government’s vision for Central Alberta,” he said.

Property owners would be responsible for the portion of the costs involved in tying their systems into the collection system — basically the cost of work done on their property to get to the line to their property line.

“Hopefully we will hear this fall and can start work next summer,” said Jewell.

Another subject Jewell talked about was potable water and work of the Sylvan Lake Regional Water Commission.

A study done by Golder Associates indicated that the current aquifer being tapped by wells for summer village residents as well as town residents can support roughly 18,000 people within the watershed. “However there is a deeper aquifer that is sparsely sampled … The next step is trying to quantify how much is in the deeper aquifer.”

Councillor Michael Wells talked about his frustration with the slow progress of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee (SLMC) and issues with high lake levels.

“Are you going to see lowering of the lake this summer?” he asked. “Of course — if there’s no rain for two months and it’s hotter than hell, the level may drop an inch or two.”

He explained the simplistic idea of digging out the outlet creek is not an option. Members of the committee met with provincial and federal officials at the creek site to discuss the idea. Alberta Environment suggested the work could be done, but a representative from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was there and said no work could be done because it’s a key pike spawning area. “We were standing by the water when a four foot pike swam by, DFO won,” Wells said.

Besides those two organizations, others that are involved in the issue include Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, the Cygnet Lake Irrigation District, Ducks Unlimited which controls the weir and works with the irrigation district and Alberta Transportation which controls “the temporary diversion on the west side of Highway 20”. “We have all these different departments and we’re trying to get agreement … Anything we do to the lake has to have agreement of all these parties.”

“We’re putting a lot of effort into trying to get people to control the lake level,” said Wells. “The (high water level) peaks are getting higher and the lows are getting higher.” An alternative is ‘armouring’ the lakeshore which in Birchcliff would cost the summer village about $2 million for the area it controls. “Do we really want to turn the whole lakeshore into big limestone blocks? If we aren’t successful we may have to look at that.”

Another initiative of the SLMC is to create a cumulative effects study which will gather all the various reports done on the lake and look at what factors affect quality of water in the lake to determine what should be measured in the future. A technical committee is working on the project. “Lacombe County is contributing in kind to this committee immensely,” he said.

On the issue of lake access, Wells said the Alberta government has said every Albertan has the right to use the lake. “They may have the right but there’s no access point. It’s a provincial government responsibility,” Wells said. “If the provincial government wants more access it’s going to have to purchase land.” He estimated the cost to do that at $2 for every Albertan.

“Our point in the summer village is it’s not our obligation to provide access. It’s not our obligation if there is access in our summer village that Birchcliff has to pay the costs to operate it.”

Wells had earlier updated the audience on changes at the Range Road 1-4 access where work was completed to stop major erosion and trees were planted to limit access to people walking to the shore.

At Range Road 1-5, beside the church camp, they’ve finished a stabilization project which included building a minor retaining wall and adding fill material. “The only other alternative is to completely shut it down, but lots of people use it,” he said of the access route which is used winter and summer.

Mayor Joyce Megson, in her report, said her first major task last year was working with the other summer villages to hire a new chief administrative officer. That also led to a new joint services agreement between the five summer villages around the lake to streamline a lot of the similar things.

Political networking has also consumed a lot of time, she said. “In the past 12 months there’s been more political networking than ever before,” she explained, listing meetings with various government ministers, recently elected Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle and Lacombe County officials.

Megson said she started attending Lacombe County meetings in 2000 and has noticed a change in their attitude to lake issues. “They really listened to all presenters concerned about the lake. I’m happy to report Lacombe County is listening.”

Another project underway, said Megson, is updating the municipality’s Land Use Bylaw. “I’m hoping to have that before the snow flies.” She noted they’re trying to harmonize similarities among the five summer villages but there will be differences. A public meeting to review the changes is proposed for the fall.

Consultant Bill Shaw also talked about growth and a revised Municipal Development Plan (MDP).

“One of the issues council has been considering is opportunities to expand the community’s land base while co-operating with adjacent municipalities … We want to know from residents, should we grow or retain our current boundaries?”

Those attending were also provided with a “Strategic Planning Directions” document and asked to provide comments. The document details the community vision, core values, guiding principles and directions that will be addressed in the new MDP.

Shaw asked for input by July 25.

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