The Village of Alix appears to have mitigated a possible fire hazard by signing a lease agreement with Canadian Pacific Rail. The agreement was approved by village council at their regular meeting May 5.
Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Michelle White submitted to council a proposed lease agreement with CP Rail which essentially allows the village access to the rail right-of-way (ROW) which runs the length of the village.
At past council meetings councillors, in particular Mayor Rob Fehr, voiced concern about the lack of maintenance of tall grass growing along the ROW.
CP Rail’s ROW is not very far from Main Street and trains have been known to throw sparks into tall, dry grass along tracks which could become wildfires.
The aesthetic impact of tall, uncut grass was also mentioned in White’s report.
In her report to council the CAO noted CP Rail used to mow the grass but stopped doing that about four years ago.
White stated it took some time to nail down, but the lease would give village staff permission to enter the ROW to cut grass and that’s all the village was looking for.
“It’s been a bit of a long road,” said White to council.
As councillors read through the proposed lease, it was noted CP Rail stated if the company had to send the agreement to a lawyer, they would charge the village for the legal fees. The village will also have to cover the costs of mowing the grass.
Mayor Fehr stated the agreement looked good and, considering other alternatives, at least the village now has an option. The mayor later stated he felt the agreement was actually better than what he was expecting and “…is the way to go,” as it frees the village from any question about trespassing.
Coun. Ed Cole stated it seemed that the rail company was sort of meeting the village halfway with this agreement.
White noted the proposed agreement was described as “standard” by CP Rail and there was little to no room for changes.
Coun. Tim Besuijen asked what liability the village faces for signing this agreement.
White answered that the ROW is private property, and the agreement gives the village permission to enter it only to perform certain maintenance work such as vegetation control and nothing else.
Coun. Vicki Soltermann asked about agreements that other municipalities have with CP Rail. White answered that not all municipalities appear to have formal arrangements with CP Rail, and it was difficult to get information from the large municipalities.
When asked what happens if a train starts a fire along the ROW, White responded that it’s handled like any other fire, with the invoice for the fire response sent to CP Rail. She noted it can sometimes take up to two years to get paid.
Councillors unanimously approved signing the agreement with CP Rail as presented.
CN Rail meeting
The village also met with the other major rail line, CN Rail, to discuss issues of mutual concern, stated a report from Mayor Fehr.
Fehr stated he and White had a virtual meeting with CN representative Tyler Bannick and discussed tall grass and noxious weeds on CN Rail property.
Fehr stated that the village pointed out a fire occurred in 2019 along CN’s ROW near Haunted Lake Golf Course.
CN noted they have an alarm system to notify engineer’s when there’s a “hot spot” on the line but apparently it didn’t work as intended in 2019.
Bannick stated CN will allow the fire department to enter onto its property to fight fires.
It was also noted CN Rail plans to meet with the village on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual concern.
Councillors accepted the report for information.
Cutting the grass
Coincidentally, the village also received a letter from CN Rail notifying the community about vegetation control activities over the summer of 2021.
“If not managed properly, trees, brush or other vegetation can severely compromise rail and public safety,” stated the April 21 letter signed by CN staffer Luanne Patterson.
Councillors accepted the letter for information.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter