The County of Stettler is changing a previous decision to rip up part of a surfaced road and return it to gravel.
The decision was made after council heard several delegations submit by teleconference on the matter of Range Road 21-2 at their Sept. 9 regular meeting.
Earlier this summer council decided to address problems with 21-2’s condition by removing the asphalt surface that was in bad condition and return the road to a gravel surface.
The road is located south of Buffalo Lake, comes north off Sec. Hwy. #601 and is used by local residents, visitors to attractions like Old McDonald’s campground and summer villages near the lake.
The first delegation included Ol’ MacDonald’s owners Jean MacDonald and her son Kevin.
Jean described the long history her family has in the area and how much effort was put into developing the resort and noted much of the work was to convince County of Stettler council about the importance of tourism.
She said in the past Ol’ MacDonalds helped pay for asphalt surface on 21-2 to address dust issues and it was thought the surface would last about 20 years.
It has, in fact, only been 11 years.
She said the resort set aside $10,000 a year to help pay for maintenance on the road.
Jean said the road is important to the resort’s success, and very heavily used, as this past summer 20,000 vehicles used 21-2 just to come to Ol’ MacDonald’s.
Jean stated her family found out about the decision to rip up the surface on 21-2 secondhand, and weren’t happy to hear about it, and she feels many people won’t come to the resort if they have to pull their trailers on a gravel road.
Kevin McDonald stated he’s looked closely at the road in question and feels that the structure itself is sound, even if the pavement has degraded.
He also suggested that an agriculture business that uses 21-2 could easily use Twp 40-2 instead.
Coun. Wayne Nixon stated the county believes the first mile of the road was not structurally sound and had to be rebuilt, plus with budget issues, the county cannot afford to pave the road.
“It’s a million bucks a mile for pavement, approximately,” said Nixon. He did suggest a gravel road with oil coat as an affordable alternative.
Coun. Ernie Gendre also stated the first mile of the road requires rebuilding and everyone he knows agrees on that.
The second delegation was Georgette Habib, who stated she represented the Scenic Sands Community Association located on the south shore of Buffalo Lake.
Habib stated 21-2 is Scenic Shore’s main access and the decision to remove the pavement adversely affects residents, including many who have little experience driving on gravel.
She said dust on a gravel road is a serious concern for Scenic Sands residents.
Habib also stated the recent development of an agriculture business along 21-2 was a major factor in the county deciding to remove 21-2’s pavement.
Habib stated residents haven’t seen much maintenance on 21-2 but also noted not all of the road is in the same condition. Habib asked if the county had realized the money used to put gravel back on the road, plus money required to maintain a gravel road, could instead be used to repair the pavement.
Gendre again stated 21-2’s sub base is in very poor shape which needs to be replaced.
Third up to speak was Shelly Anderson, who noted the Anderson family, which has been in the Buffalo Lake area for about 120 years, is solely dependent on 21-2 for access to their property, and no one else in the situation can say that.
She stated that just because someone helped pay for asphalt doesn’t mean they own the road.
Anderson stated the road gets heavy use and the pavement has reached its lifespan and Ol’ MacDonalds was being unrealistic to think to would last 20 years.
Anderson also disputed information that 21-2’s subbase is in good shape; she said she has other information showing the concrete underbase was insufficient or non-existent.
Anderson also stated a 75 per cent road ban placed on 21-2 near the Anderson’s property is hindering their ability to conduct agricultural operations, including harvest.
During the meeting, a letter from the Farmer’s Advocate office was read that referred to that problem as well.
She stated if 21-2 is in as bad a shape as many people say it is, the only ban that’s probably needed then is the springtime one.
After delegations, councillors debated the issue.
Coun. Cheri Neitz asked if at least part of the surfaced portion of 21-2 could hold up a bit longer. She also stated the county should work with stakeholders on a long term 21-2 plan.
Director of Operations Rick Green stated the section of road in question needs about $15,000 to $20,000 of maintenance a year.
Coun. James Nibourg stated the south end of the road is in such bad shape he could not vote in favour of spending any more money on it. He stated the north side may be usable for now.
Coun. Les Stulberg suggested ripping up the south side and gravelling it, while leaving the north side for now.
Councillors passed, by a 5 to 2 vote, Neitz’ motion to rescind their earlier decision to rip up the road in question.
Instead, they passed a motion to rip up the first mile of the road and leave any decision on the rest of the road until later.
Reeve Larry Clarke pointed out the county could look for possible partners who want to help pay for the road and also stated there’s no guarantee the road will get oiled.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter