Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle told a cheering audience of almost 500 people that she’s going to do whatever it takes to represent residents’ views that lights are needed at the Highway 11 and 781 intersection.
But she told them, at last Tuesday’s meeting in the community centre, that she needed the support of everyone in the room to convince town councillors they should be lobbying for lights at that corner.
Mayor Susan Samson and town councillors, who were not at the meeting, took the brunt of Towle’s criticism although she stressed several times she’s trying to be fair and not take their words out of context.
She also indicated she’d met with Red Deer County and asked them why they’re not supporting the campaign. “It starts with the grassroots, there’s a process here,” she said. “You guys are obviously passionate, I believe there’s an easy fix. But your municipal councils, Sylvan Lake and Red Deer County are not hearing you.”
Red Deer County councillor George Gehrke was at the meeting.
Noting that the cost for Memorial Trail is now up to $6.7 million, Towle said the price isn’t going to stop there. “Anybody who thinks it’s going to stop at $6.7 million is fooling themselves.
“Who’s going to pay for it, you,” she said.
(A letter received by the town earlier this month from Transportation Minister Ric McIver confirmed the total for town infrastructure including Memorial Trail, Memorial Trail and 50th Street intersection improvements, Fortis Alberta costs, related engineering and material testing, and contingency is $4,603,549.61. The remaining work on provincial infrastructure will be funded for a total of up to $2,051,396.71 … This includes Memorial Trail and Highway 20 intersection improvements, Highway 11 and Highway 20 intersection improvements, Highway 11 and Highway 781 intersection improvements, the traffic impact assessment, related engineering and material testing and contingency.” The work was all tendered earlier this year and the tender awarded based on final approval by the province. Work is underway.)
Towle said she told Samson “I would not attempt to take any money away from them. What I did say is that it doesn’t stop the fact that 781 needs to stay open. I asked her to join my fight and ask the minister to put lights at 781. I got a resounding ‘781 is no longer an issue’.
“Minister McIver is in a very difficult position. He’s not going to go against the municipal government that speaks on your behalf,” Towle said.
She encouraged residents to write letters and sign petitions. “I will take every single piece of paper given onto the floor of the Legislature,” Towle promised.
“I’m prepared to draft letters for each and every one of you,” she continued, noting that’s not really her job as MLA.
Countering the idea that lights at 781 would be too close to the Highway 20 lights or the interchange planned to connect 781 and 20, she said there are “many, many, many examples all over the province where lights have been put up” in close proximity to others.
She added that the 781 corner is actually just Highway 20 south.
In response to a question, she said, “I’m not limiting my discussion to only lights, I’m asking for an open intersection to travel in a safe manner.”
She asked the question, “is this the mandate you have given me and is this how you want me to go forward?” and got a resounding round of applause.
One speaker suggested that the intersection at Highway 20 and Memorial Trail, just a few hundred metres from the Highway 11 intersection is going to need lights and major work to take out the hill.
Heather Donald stated that while Memorial Trail is being constructed, a lot of traffic is flowing through school zones to get out of town heading east.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” another speaker said.
“Clearly you’re not getting through on all levels that you want change,” Towle said. “I don’t get very many calls from people asking to leave it the way it is.”
“I’m imploring each and every one in the room, we know it will be a long hard fight, don’t give up. Don’t allow elected officials to give up.”
Rod English said, “We’ve got to get this a higher profile.”
Towle proposed rallies in front of Premier Alison Redford’s office, in front of Transportation Minister Ric McIver’s office, and once the legislature is back in on Oct. 23, on the steps of the legislature.
“You have to band together, you have to travel,” she said.
Another suggestion came from Dale Mannix. “Why don’t we all drive out on 781, 11, 20 and shut our cars off.” Then he suggested that to attract council’s attention they should sit out in front of the council chambers on Monday night and blow their horns.
“You need to move your protest,” said Towle. Start with Alberta Transportation, then McIver’s office, then the Legislature. I’ll organize the whole thing,” she promised.
Les Vidok, Liberal candidate in the last election, added, “One of the reasons I ran was I was frustrated as a resident of this town. We need to stand up and do something in order to change government, we need to put pressure on.”
Businessman Matt Toonders suggested they start with a “non-confidence vote with our council and our mayor”. He admitted that until they get municipal support it’s going to be very difficult to get things changed.
Towle agreed. “The reality is if we don’t get municipal councils onboard, that’s the way the process works, you people have far better success if you can encourage our representatives to defend the position of residents. I encourage you to start there. If you don’t get them on board, this job is near impossible. We want to work co-operatively with the municipality.”
Answering the question, “where do we go from here?”, Towle said the minister (McIver) is ultimately the person who makes the decision.
She encouraged everyone in the room to provide her with their name, address and email. “This will allow us to update you on what’s going on. It will allow us to organize a rally at McIver’s office, a rally in Edmonton. If we want to organize we have to be organized.”
Concluding the meeting, Towle said she’s excited to be opening an office in Sylvan Lake at the Community Partners office on 50th Avenue. It will be open by Oct. 1st on a regular schedule, although not full time.