Community Grant Fund continues to decrease

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council approved funding through the Community Grant Program (CGP) to six applicants in the only grant intake of 2020, which totaled $19,180.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic related financial and operational impacts, the spring intake of the Community Grant 2020 was cancelled.

Six applications for the fall intake met the eligibility criteria and were recommended for funding by the Hinton Grant Funding Advisory Committee (HGFAC) during the regular meeting of council on Dec. 1.

“They all had really great proposals and projects that all would be very valued to our community,” said Jessica Hearsey from HGFAC during her presentation to council.

“We had only $19,000 so we didn’t have enough money to give full funding to all of them, which we would have liked to do.”

The Hinton Boxing Club was the only organization that received its full request of $1260 for an automated external defibrillator (AED).

The Hinton Friendship Centre received $5000 for its Circle of Learning Program, Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) received $5000 for Community Violent Threat risk assessment training, Ecole Mountain View received $4000 for an outdoor classroom gazebo, the Hinton Adult Learning Society received $2000 for its Youth Teaching Adults Digital Skills program, and the Hinton Curling Club received $1920 for the U18 AB provincial curling championships.

Hearsey explained that the Circle of Learning Program would provide tutoring for indigenous parents to help their children in school, something that seems even more valuable now with online learning.

Coun. Dewly Nelson asked about a contingency plan for the Curling Club if they don’t move forward this year, and Hearsey noted that they didn’t discuss a contingency plan.

The Town of Hinton’s intern, Mir Faiaz, explained that once funding is approved by council, administration provides the organization with 80 per cent of the funding. The remaining 20 per cent is provided after the organization submits their final financial report detailing what they’ve done with the funding.

“We cannot make sure, according to our current process, whether they are actually using those funds for the exact program or project they applied to the community grant for, although we hold back 20 per cent of the funding,” said Faiaz.

If projects and programs are not reported on, the remaining 20 per cent stays in the grant program.

The grant is funded from the Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) Reserve.

The available contribution in 2020 is $19,180 based on 2019 ATE net revenue, which decreased since earlier years.

Up to 30 per cent or a maximum of $120,000 can be allocated annually to the CGP from the ATE reserve as per Town policy #078.

Administration anticipated a larger amount during the 2020 budget process, but CAO Emily Olsen explained during a council meeting in July that due to an unanticipated amount of write offs required for unpaid ATE fines this number was reduced. Overall ATE revenue has decreased due to the reduction in operational ATE locations within the community.

In the fall of 2019, $29,727 was available for the second yearly CGP intake, while requests totaled $39,000. Only $26,000 was awarded to three local non-profit organizations.

In 2019, a total of $54,050 was available, down from $119,047 in 2018, and $243,181 in 2016.

From 1999 to now, the Town of Hinton has provided $1.58M in funding to local non-profit organizations through the Quality of Life and Community Grant programs.

Applications must meet certain eligibility requirements, including a price tag between $1,000 and $10,000, support of eligible expenditures, an approval of funding on a matching grant basis, and that any previous funds from the Town met reporting requirements.

These applications are then reviewed and ranked, using council-approved criteria, by the Hinton grant funding advisory committee. This committee makes recommendations to council in the awarding of Community Grant Program funding.

Applications require information regarding the organization, the project, finances, and so on.

An Applicants’ Guide is available online and the Hinton Connects team can answer questions about the application.

Each year, the CGP provides local groups with funding to maintain, improve, or initiate community projects, operations, and events.

First draft budget includes four per cent tax rate increase

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The first draft budget for 2021 was presented to council including a four per cent tax increase resulting from several cost saving measures.

Compared to budget 2020, the draft budget for 2021 has an increase of just over half a million dollars.

The yearly cost for taxes owing on an average home assessed at $365,000, would be about $2057, which is actually only $17 higher than the rates of 2019, stated Carla Fox, corporate services director, during the first budget discussion with council on Nov. 20. She added that assessment values may face a deflationary decrease due to the current economic situation, however that would come back to council in early 2021.

“The budget that we’re going to discuss tonight and tomorrow includes substantial reductions that are not expected to result in impactful decreases and service levels. Over $400,000 has been reduced in salaries and wages, $250,000 to $300,000 of this will be permanent,” said CAO Emily Olsen on Nov. 20.

In total, the draft budget includes a 14.9 per cent increase in the operating budget to manage fixed increases and additional operating requirements, however operational reductions of 10.9 per cent or roughly $1.4M provides a tax increase of only four per cent.

Fixed increases like union wages, insurance rates, and revenue losses added up to just over $1M, while additional operating requirements such as contracting increases, development plan additions, and non‐union wage increases added up to just over $900,000.

The Preliminary Budget Discussion Report from September confirmed that administration would present a 2021 budget including a tax rate maximum of four per cent for council’s initial look.

Operational reductions include debt reductions, wage reductions, contract reductions, and a franchise fee increase.

“The pressures to try and bring the tax rate in line with what people are willing to pay is going to be an exercise that is going to need public engagement and further discussions with council on areas of service we are willing to let go,” Fox said.

She noted that administration has made real strides in working with council over the last year and recently in setting goals and directions to find further efficiencies.

Each department within the Town’s administration presented their operating budget to council on Nov. 20, as well as highlights of their capital budgets.

Through these presentations, Council learned that departments would continue to offer similar levels of service as a result of the proposed changes.

Each department faced common changes including inflation on goods and services, a seven per cent increase on insurance premiums, union negotiated wage increases, an additional CAO supported non-union wage increase consistent with the union increases, as well as COVID-19 pandemic costs.

“Over $1M was reduced from the budget in 2021 to offset COVID-19 impacts through lost revenue and increased expenses,” Olsen stated.

After the capital and operating budget presentations, council had a chance to make directions and discuss any changes for the next draft budget.

Olsen explained that Municipal Operating Support Transfer (MOST) provided the Town with roughly $1.5M of provincial funds meant to support communities in their COVID-19 response. This funding has not been attributed to anything within the budget and council can make decisions on how to utilize the funds.

“If council makes a motion to receive that money into grant funding for 2020, it will offset the lost revenue that we lost over [the pandemic] and it will put the town in a position where we have surplus dollars in our operating budget,” Fox explained. 

Administration tracked funds and losses caused by the pandemic, and still anticipate further losses to be offset by this funding.

“There’s going to be approximately $700,000 left to be placed into a reserve of council’s choosing if that’s what they would like to do,” Fox said. Funds could be used for programs such as a tax penalty forgiveness program or emergency operations reserve for future pandemic impacts, she added.

A brief report on MOST funding will be presented at Dec. 8 standing committee meeting.

Within the operating budget, Council directed that the line item in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 budgets for the Hinton disc golf association reflect an additional $8,000 per year to be funded through taxation.

Coun. Dewly Nelson and Coun. Albert Ostashek both stated they were surprised by the financial ask of the disc golf association, but ultimately believe in the importance of supporting the disc golf association.

“I think the right decision is to ensure long term sustainability. Of that $8,000, $5,000 goes into reserves for future maintenance and enhancements,” Nelson said.

Ostashek added that if this item is important enough to council, then support should be made available through tax dollars and the input of the community rather than at the expense of another organization.

Council also directed the civic agencies’ operating plan be amended to reflect an increase of $30,800 for the Chamber of Commerce for 2021.

“I don’t ever want to be in a place where we don’t have tourism support at our visitor information centre, that is where people have come to expect to find resources that support our businesses and community and I wouldn’t want to be on the lookout for a new tenant for that building or a new tourism provider,” Nelson said.

Council then removed the third, currently vacant Community Peace Officer (CPO) position, from the 2021 budget.

Nelson stated that after speaking with citizens, he did not find a noticeable decrease in services and with the current state of finances and tax increase he was inclined not to add that third position.

As an advocate for the third position, Coun. Trevor Haas disagreed, stating that with only two officers there would be a dip in service levels as they face burnout or fall behind.

“Administration brought back a budget that included the third position and still maintained that [four per cent],” Haas said.

Protective services manager, Todd Martens, stated that it is challenging for two officers to cover all duties.

Council allotted $29,000 to the hanging basket program and maintenance thereof. This would be exclusively funded by new grant monies in the 2021 budget.

“Because it is exclusively funded by grants, if the grants are not met then the project will go to 2022,” stated Mayor Marcel Michaels.

Laura Howarth, director of community services, explained that the flowers are ordered in January each year, which may be impacted by when the budget is approved. While there are no current grants available right now, administration will do some deeper digging, she added.

While the budget showed that this program would return in 2022 and 2023, Coun. JoAnn Race believed it was important to keep this program running in 2020.

Olsen explained this program was cut in the draft budget 2021 to offset COVID-19 losses.

Council also directed that the $100,000 in transfers from reserves along with associated expenditures be removed from the council operating plan and that the $100,000 be maintained in reserves.

All the changes requested by council decreased the operating budget by roughly $40,000, which will be presented in the second draft budget for 2021.

Changes to the capital budget however, did not result in financial changes but several projects await reports before moving ahead.

Within the capital budget, Council requested that any Beaver Boardwalk upgrades come to a future standing committee meeting for discussion prior to beginning work.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn explained that this is an opportunity to transition from council lead discussion on the Beaver Boardwalk to getting the community involved. Ostashek felt this decision was premature and would duplicate work of the Beaver Boardwalk Committee.

The work on the boardwalk is funded by a grant that requires the funds to be spent by the end of 2021, and if a report is requested back to council for discussion, the report and work would be impacted, clarified Olsen.

Nelson agreed that public involvement is important when moving forward with this project.

The Maxwell Lake bridge rehabilitation will also come to council for a decision. Olsen stated that work permits through Alberta’s Environment and Parks (AEP) had not yet been submitted but the intention is to work with AEP regarding those.

Several requests for decisions were made by council regarding the decommissioning of Scout Hall, the greenhouse training building capital amounts for 2022 and 2023, the replaced 400 commercial bins over two years project, and the pool locker replacement.

Fox noted that the reports requested would not hold up the budget process.

“The current numbers in the budget will be kept how they are, those projects identified specifically by motion of council will not move forward without that report and further direction from council,” Fox said.

The draft budget also includes a four per cent utility rate increase for water services, wastewater services, and waste services, as discussed during an earlier meeting of council in November about the water treatment plant agreement with West Fraser. 

Nelson stated during the meeting on Nov. 21, that the week leading up to budget discussion had been challenging with limited time to review the budget documents, and that council may bring up further directions in the coming weeks after conversations with the public and additional time to look through the budget.

Mandatory masks in Hinton’s public spaces

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A temporary mandatory mask and face coverings bylaw went into effect on Saturday, Nov. 21, for all indoor public spaces within the Town of Hinton, such as stores, businesses, and government buildings.

This bylaw was passed by council during a special meeting of council on Nov. 20. 

Council made an amendment to the bylaw to exempt kids aged five and under from wearing masks.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn suggested raising that age of exemption to be in line with the rules within Alberta’s education system, where kids below grade four are exempt.

“I think one of the reasons in schools that the age is set at nine, is that there needs to be some assurance that the child is old enough to handle taking on and off their masks independently. Whereas, outside of school, the child is generally going to be with their cohort group and they will have a cohort or family member who can help them with their mask,” said Coun. Albert Ostashek.

He stated two wasn’t unreasonable considering that they would likely be with a parent or guardian who can help them put on their masks in public spaces.

Mayor Marcel Michaels noted that kids aged four and up at St. Gregory Catholic School have been wearing masks without any issues, providing a successful trial from within the community.

Coun. Dewly Nelson stated that council will have regular opportunities to amend this bylaw as they learn what is working and what is not.

The bylaw will be reviewed every first and third Tuesday of each month by council and currently will only be enacted by the CAO when there are ten or more confirmed active cases of COVID-19.

Other exemptions to the bylaw include people who are unable to remove a mask without assistance, anyone eating or drinking in a designated area or ceremony, during exercise, for any medical reason, or someone who is hearing impaired, among others. It also doesn’t apply to schools, hospitals, childcare, or areas accessed by public place employees.

Todd Martens, protective services manager of Hinton, stated that peace officers will ask individuals about their medical condition if they refuse to wear a mask for that reason, which they may or may not respond to. Officers have the authority to deal with individuals who refuse in several ways, but it won’t be an automatic ticket, he added.

“We’re going to give the benefit of the doubt to the person that said they have that medical condition. If you do have a medical condition, we encourage all people to ask their doctor for a note and to quickly show that to our peace officers. Some doctors are gladly willing to write that for people who truly have a medical condition, for others it will be case by case,” Martens said.

Coun. Trevor Haas added that most doctor’s notes won’t state what the person’s condition is, which is not something the individual is required to disclose.

Failure to wear a face covering where required comes with a minimum penalty of $100 and interference with a person in the exercise or performance of the person’s powers pursuant to this bylaw will come with a minimum penalty of $250.

Maguhn  pointed out a few concerns he came across while speaking with citizens about the bylaw, one being the misconception of bylaws not getting repealed.

He explained that repealing a bylaw is a normal order of business for a municipality and that the Town does, can, and will repeal any bylaw as necessary.

Another concern surrounded the legalities of a mandatory mask bylaw.

The Town also referenced approved bylaws from other municipalities and how they fit within all necessary legal frameworks, he stated.

“We also, as a municipality, consulted our own legal representation to make sure that everything fits within the accordance of all legal structures, provincial, federal, municipal,” Maguhn said.

Water user rates face potential increase

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Changes in the Water and Waste Water Utility operating costs may be covered in 2021 by a four per cent increase in user rates, according to the Town of Hinton status update on the water treatment plant.

Since early 2020, CAO Emily Olsen and West Fraser Mill manager, Paul DiJulio, have worked to understand the status of the Water Treatment Plant project, and to build working relationships between the two organizations.

The discussion on operating and other costs incurred by the Town that were not included in the Interim Water Services Agreement between the Town and West Fraser have taken place over the last 10 months.

Additional costs by the town were identified and verified, Olsen said during the standing committee meeting on Nov. 17. Language in the agreement provided opportunity for review of the actual operating costs and impacts of the water services agreement. No review has taken place to date, Olsen stated.

“The costs discussed amount to approximately $310,000 and include payment for power, rent and contributions to lagoon maintenance. These have been funded through the 2021 budget and will be included in the package council receives to discuss this weekend,” Olsen said.

Olsen said these costs are best discussed within the context of the budget document along with the information on capital cost and operating expenditures during budget deliberations this weekend.

According to the report, administration supports taking appropriate responsibility for coverage of costs incurred by water treatment plant operations by the Town, and for new contributions to support wastewater management.

The conclusion reached is that payment for the coverage of operating costs will be included and brought to Council for decision in the Town of Hinton 2021 budget. 

Of that $310,000, $110,000 is for power, $25,000 is for rent of the water treatment plant, $150,000 is a contribution to lagoon maintenance, and $25,000 is for a reduction of West Fraser potable water bill through accounting for re-circulation charges.

The changes in the Water and Waste Water Utility operating costs can be covered in 2021 by a four per cent increase in user rates, and a one-time transfer from reserves of $134,787. 

The amount required to cover these costs for 2022 will be fully covered by an additional four per cent increase in utilities, stated administration’s report.

Securing a sustainable potable water supply and maintaining safe and reliable infrastructure to meet the Town’s needs is part of Hinton’s council strategic plan that was set in 2017.

Very few public discussions have taken place on this item due to the confidential nature of agreements and sequencing of phase one and two of the umbrella agreement. 

“A lot of work has gone into reaching the agreements that are in place currently, including the Umbrella agreement signed by both parties in 2018,” stated Olsen.

Phase one was concluded when the Town assumed operations at the water treatment facility to manage the production of potable water using process water provided by West Fraser. 

“However the goal of transition was to eliminate any liability to West Fraser and their involvement in potable water supply to the town. In order to reach that goal, a water treatment plant bypass solution was created in collaboration with both parties,” Olsen explained.

Phase two focuses on the steps necessary to support and construct the bypass solution.

The original date included in the agreement was to commission this service through the bypass solution by January 2022, but Olsen explained that this process takes at least three years to achieve. 

Phase two faced several delays due to turnover in both organizations, as well as decision-making needed to advance phase two.

“In 2020, with new management on both sides, a discussion in collaboration on next steps was initiated and has taken place,” Olsen said.

The work to commence in 2021 is on the engineering and design side of the bypass, and a grant application was prepared to submit to the Alberta Municipal Water and Wastewater Partnership Program in early 2021. That grant application will come back to council for decision.

In the Capital Budget for 2021, $200,000 has been included to initiate the design and engineering of the by-pass solution. Additional funding for this work is included in 2022, along with funding allocated for construction.

In the 2021 Capital Plan, amounts for the project include $865,253 for water treatment plant upgrades and replacement design, and $25,625,000 for water treatment plant upgrades and replacement construction.

Initial site testing and development of a preliminary design will take place in 2021, and an updated budget and schedule could be presented to Council in September 2021.

Town to seek partnership in land development

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council discussed and recommended that the Town pursue the collaborative partnership approach in the development of the Boutin Avenue lands with other organizations and developers.

The Town of Hinton has been exploring development opportunities for the undeveloped, Town-owned lands at the intersection of Boutin Ave and Drinnan Way since 2018. 

The design team from the development firm, V3 Companies of Canada, and architect firm, ncx+, conducted the Boutin Avenue design charrette at the Government Centre in July 2020. The result from the four-day intensive collaborative design charrette was a final preferred concept for the lands to be developed.

“The partnership could be set up as simple as you as the municipality don’t necessarily front the cost but you may be the person who leases the land in a long lease arrangement,” said Nick Pryce, from V3 about the partnership approach on the development project, during the standing committee meeting on Oct. 27 where he presented the results from the Boutin Ave Design Charrette.

He added the Town could agree on a low lease rate, and the developer would then be responsible to develop the site or the municipality could cover certain approval costs to help the partnership move forward in the development. Any collaboration to make it more inviting for a developer, Pryce explained.

Collaboratively, other sources of grant funding can be determined to provide affordable housing through a phased approach.

“The Town is getting more housing, which of course is beneficial for the Town. If you did look at a solution being a long term lease, then you’re deferring the cost of the land to make it more desirable for a developer to get in there quicker to do the development and make something happen,” Coun. Ryan Maguhn stated in response to Pryce.

The report brought to council presented three options the town could pursue in the development of the lands to achieve affordable housing, with collaborative partnerships being the one council chose.

Rather than choosing to pursue collaborative partnerships, council could have chosen to sell the land to a developer or become the land developer. Pryce believed the salability on the actual lands overall isn’t there.

Next steps in the Boutin Ave project includes redistricting to align with the preferred design concept and thereby enabling the lands for future development. 

Pryce recommended the Town create a direct control district to maintain the integrity of the work, giving council control over the development during a collaboration. Council would then approve any changes.

The next steps of the development include moving on to phase one and two and further analysis of servicing the land to which $150,000 is slated to be included in the 2021 budget to finance that, stated CAO Emily Olsen.  

Administration can now pursue seeking out partnerships and grant opportunities, and some of those conversations have already started, said Olsen.

Another step forward will include sourcing potential housing grants to assist with off-setting the estimated $2.5M to service the lands.

Approval from council is required to access any grant funds and any impacts to the budget will come forward in coming weeks.

One of the main constraints for development moving forward, is the need to carry out further analysis on the servicing infrastructure to identify design solutions to improve the capacity levels.

Pryce explained that phasing of the development is based on obtaining quick wins and providing a product that is currently in demand within the local market.

Phase one of the project would include tiny homes as affordable senior housing, a professional centre or medical-type facility, and a storage facility. This phase would be done between 2021 and 2024.

Feedback from the seniors community was positive about the price points of the proposed units, Pryce stated.

He added that there was a developer who tried to develop senior facilities in Hinton for around $340,000 per unit, which was too high for most seniors that were looking to downsize.

“The other comment that I heard from the seniors was that there are a lot of people that aren’t ready to go into the seniors facility but they were by themselves and they had friends in there, so they wanted to be nearby,” Pryce said.

If units can stay around $230,000, Pryce believes the units will be popular.

Phase two would begin in 2024 until 2027 and include multi duplex units for seniors. Town houses would be built in phase three between 2027 and 2032 but requires additional work on the sanitary system. 

Additional analysis is required to evaluate the capacity of the stormwater line between the utility right-of-ways (ROW) manhole and the stormwater manhole at Hart Cove on Maurer Drive. Additionally, there are capacity issues downstream in the system and the updated flows will need to be reviewed for the proposed concept.

A mixed-use multi unit would be done in phase four during 2032 and 2042, and phase five includes a four storey multi unit residential building between 2037 and 2042.

A total estimated cost for phase one is $14,331,221, but this could still change, Pryce said.

Pryce noted there is some flexibility in changing the phasing or layout of the project, but that the costs should be considered and the impact on the downstream upgrade.

He added that the phasing timeline is based on the unknowns of the market take-up, which includes subdivision cleanup, detailed design, building permits, followed by construction, and the sales.

“It could happen a lot quicker but it’s just to get a gauge of what could be the uptake. If we get the price point right, they might go in a year,” Pryce said. “From a phasing point of view, it’s always good to just have a little bit of a buffer on expectations.”

Administration retained the services of V3 Companies of Canada in 2019 to prepare a due diligence report for the three parcels owned by the Town. 

The purpose of the due diligence report was to determine the overall suitability of the parcels for residential development, to determine the geotechnical nature of the lands, to conduct an environmental phase one analysis, to determine if the servicing to the site could support residential development, and to prepare an estimated cost to service the parcels. 

The charrette earlier this year invited different stakeholder groups to collaborate and discuss their needs and vision for the site.

Town removes oversight of Golf Society

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council and Town of Hinton administrative oversight has been removed from the Hinton Golf Society for the 2020-2021 Golf Course Operating Agreement.

“The original intention of council and administration oversight to the Golf Society was in regard to the loan amount,” stated CAO Emily Olsen, during the Oct. 20 special meeting of council.

The Town of Hinton entered into a Loan Agreement with the Hinton Golfing Society in June of 2017, which included a condition of the transfer of all Golf Course assets to the Town in the event of default on the loan payments. Due to the society defaulting on their payment and the asset being transferred to Town ownership, the oversight requirement is no longer needed, Olsen explained.

Coun. Dewly Nelson clarified that the Town owns the asset while it is operated by the Hinton Golfing Society.

“I really respect the work the society has done. I really look forward to what they’re doing in the coming years. This year has been a glimpse of what is possible for the golf course,” said Nelson.

Olsen added that the Hinton Golfing Society and the Town of Hinton have agreed on a one year operating agreement and there will be a chance to review that next year.

Council also approved a 100 per cent cost recovery plan for maintenance and operations of the golf course lands, buildings, and operating equipment, and charges related to insurance and utilities within the 2020/2021 Golf Course Operating Agreement.

“It’s the cost to do the business of golf. It has been budgeted by the Hinton Golfing Society in the budget for next year,” said Coun. Trevor Haas.

Those costs include a $15,000 monthly debenture payment, up to $2,000 in monthly utilities, a $22,000 annual insurance payment, a $40 monthly payment for the security system, and up to $15,000 each month in asset maintenance. These will all be recuperated by charging them back to the operator in the form of an operating agreement and are taken on by the operator as business costs. 

Council also approved 100 per cent cost recovery based on a fee for service with respect to golf course road and building maintenance, where road clearing does not take precedence over the clearing of other Town roads.

“This is just one other way to de-risk this project for both parties,” added Nelson.

Council approved the Asset Acquisition between the Town of Hinton and the Hinton Golf Society on Oct. 6, 2020, which will take effect on Oct. 31, 2020. The one-year Operating Agreement will also start on Oct. 31.

With the asset acquisition process completed, and matters related to the 2017 Loan Agreement settled, Council and Administrative oversight is now removed.

Boardwalk repairs approved on closed section

Town of Hinton Boardwalk map

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council approved the repair of a section of the Beaver Boardwalk that is currently closed, located East of Happy Creek.

Funds allocated for the boardwalk in the 2020 operational maintenance budget will allow this section to re-open for public use, explained administration during the Oct. 20 special meeting of council.

Opening this specific section means people can use the loop that runs on both sides of Happy Creek.

“The cost and time commitment to opening this section is really minimal and it doesn’t affect the ability to continue maintenance on any of the currently open sections and it doesn’t affect the budget,” said Coun. Albert Ostashek. 

Despite a previous direction from council to concentrate efforts on currently open sections, reopening this section is a bit of a win, he added.

The repair needs to be done before ice is formed to avoid the use of machinery to move or replace pilings.

A portion of about 20 meters in this section (‘H’ on the map) requires minor repair consisting of straightening with the use of hand tools, placing cross braces and supporting boards to strengthen the structure. 

In order to reopen this section, other minor repairs to sections that are currently open and slated for 2020 will be re-prioritized. 

“Addressing and reopening this section of the Boardwalk will satisfy many stakeholders and visitors, and can be accomplished with minimal staff time and resources,” stated the Town of Hinton.

Ostashek added that quite a bit of feedback from the community was received about this section and they would like to see this reopened.

Sections that are at risk of being closed in the near future will be addressed as planned, while attention to lower priority areas can take place in following years.

The total operational budget available for 2020 regarding Beaver Boardwalk work, including materials, labour, tools, and the Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) application, is $60,000.

The continual funding for maintenance is part of the budget deliberations. The Municipal Stimulus Program (MSP) grant funding requests that are underway will also support major repairs and rebuild of structures of our Beaver Boardwalk asset.

Work has begun or has been completed with straightening and replacing several sections of the boardwalk. That includes sections c, d, e, f, and i on the boardwalk map.

These sections require levelling or sideways alignment, a task which requires little material or disturbance to complete and improved safety.

Section B and any of the sections that are currently closed, including a, j, k, and o, are not likely to see work until 2022, or 2021 if needed.

“For section b, we likely have to use machinery to address this section, and machinery use is not yet approved by AEP, it is awaiting approval under the Water Act application. This would not be included in the low level maintenance deemed permissible,” stated Hans van Klaveren, parks, recreation and culture manager.

The other sections that are currently closed are also in need of intensive work requiring machinery and rebuild, or other structural solutions.

“In addition to AEP, we will need Council’s approval to work on, and open, closed sections. Administration would also need to secure the funding to undertake this work,” van Klaveren said.

At this time, work is not deemed needed in section g, i, m, and n, due to them being in relatively good shape.

This judgement is made in part as larger sections are on solid soil and not in risk of failure right now. The Town is prioritizing the remaining work season and resources to other areas.

Decisions on how work on the Beaver Boardwalk is prioritized is done by the Town’s Parks department.

Staff take into account the community survey done earlier this year and any feedback or input from residents and other Town staff members, stated van Klaveren.

In the meantime, sections could close temporarily during the day when work is being done that pose a safety risk to the public.

All previous maintenance of the Boardwalk was put on hold pending the Water Act Approval application submitted to AEP. 

Administration received written confirmation from AEP in September that minor repairs to the existing footprint of the Boardwalk is permissible outside the wetland approval, which is still required for intermediate and major repairs. 

Town staff started with maintenance work on open sections and continue to work on open sections that need immediate attention to avoid closure of those areas.

Maintenance and repairs began on Sept. 24 and include fastening and replacing deck boards, leveling and straightening sections, and adding cross braces and side support where needed. This work will be completed to the extent supported in the 2020 Budget and a Request for Decision Report may be addressed during the 2021 Budget process.

For more information on the Beaver Boardwalk, go to

The Eye In The Sky

Lars Benson, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry forest officer, explained what a day in the life of a fire lookout tower observer is really like. Pictured behind Benson are both the Athabasca lookout tower north west of Hinton and the cabin where an observer spends six months of the year. Masha Scheele Photo

Masha Scheele

A look at the  life of a fire tower observer

From May until September, staff from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) sat at the top of the Athabasca fire lookout tower scanning the horizon for smoke.

During high and extreme fire hazard periods, that individual spends six hours straight at the top of the tower.

“There are no washrooms up there. There is nothing here, sometimes there is a pulley line where you can pull your food or lunches up and then you don’t have to carry it,” said Lars Benson, AAF forest officer.

Based on the fire hazard at any time and the current conditions, the tower operator may spend less time in the tower. Whenever it is raining, or it is damp and wet with frost in the morning, the operator may be able to go up and come down multiple times throughout the day.

“In a day in the life, they start off with weather. Right in the morning, 8:15 am they have it in,” Benson said.

They record the weather twice every day, and the rest of the time is spent looking for fires from the tower. The weather station is set up at each tower across the province in the exact same way for consistency. The station collects data including temperature and humidity.

“Everything about how the stand is, how it’s faced, the height of it, is all super specific down to a scientific exact. That way it’s consistent across the entire province. It’s set up at a specific height off the ground, has to be away from trees, the screen has to point a certain way,” Benson explained.

At the top of the tower, there’s a scope, a topographical map, and a 360 degree view that stretches about 30 kilometres in each direction.

At the end of the Athabasca tower’s line of sight, another tower picks up, making sure that no areas are missed.

“Some areas are hard, you can’t see right down this hill so we have blind spots,” Benson said.

On certain weekends with more activity in certain areas like the Brule sand dunes or nearby campgrounds, AAF will send out flights to cover off the blindspots of each tower. Due to the Athabasca lookout tower being so close to Hinton, it opens up earlier in the year and has someone operating it for a longer time period.

Masha Scheele Photo
View from the Athabasca Lookout Cabin

Towers are spread along the Eastern slopes and cover most of Alberta’s forest areas.

“Basically the entire province is covered by towers,” Benson said.

The province announced back in 2019 that between 15 and 30 of the province’s 127 wildfire lookout towers would no longer be staffed as part of the budget reduction.

Three towers within the Edson Forest Area, where Hinton is located, didn’t open this year.There used to be 14 towers within the Edson forest area, which is now reduced to 11. In the Edson Forest Area that means the tower near Adams Creek, Moberly, and Obed didn’t open, which are located northwest and northeast of the Athabasca lookout tower.

“It was a number of different factors, how much overlap is in place, how many historical fires were detected. A mix of different factors,” explained Pat Scobie, AAF wildfire technologist.

The majority of fires are called in through 310 FIRE, while only a small number are detected by lookout towers, said Benson.

This year, 53 fires were counted in the Edson forest area, and only 11 were called in by towers, while the rest was 310 FIRE. Six of those fires were caused by lightning, while the rest were human caused.

Benson added that the normal number of fires within the Edson Forest Area in a year ranges from 130 to 180, including abandoned smoldering campfires to massive wildfires.

Last year was very rainy and this year has been an odd year due to the pandemic, explained Caroline Charbonneau, forest information officer in the area.

“Last year, there was around 1,400 hectares [burned] and this year it’s 3.5 hectares,” she said.

A fire restriction, fire ban, and an ATV ban early in the season this year shut down any fire activity and likely prevented a lot of human caused fires.

Education to the public may have had a factor in the low number of fires and hectares burned this year. 

“They’re seeing all these fires from previous years and results coming out like, ‘oh this was human caused’,” said Benson.

Any communication towers are protected in case of a major wildfire through FireSmart.

FireSmart reduces the likelihood of large uncontrollable wildfires in forests near communities and infrastructure.

“We want to cut down the amount of fuel that’s accessible for a fire coming in. That would allow you the opportunity for suppression activities,” explained Scobie.

The area around the Athabasca lookout tower is pruned back to prevent fire from burning up into the trees.

Scobie added that prior to the FireSmart activities in the area, ladder fuel filled the side of the hill. Ladder fuels refer to live or dead vegetation that allows a fire to climb up from the landscape or forest floor into the tree canopy, like grasses, shrubs, or branches.

“It will move faster along the tops of the trees in a crown fire, it’s just decreasing the intensity around your value, in this case the tower,” Scobie said.

The first lookout at the Athabasca site started in 1917 with a tiny three by four metre cabin.

Benson added that the operator of a lookout back then used to trap, catch, and grow their own food, whereas now, groceries are delivered.

Some towers, like the Athabasca, have the luxury of being very close to towns and their amenities, while others are far away from anything or anyone.

In 1953, the first wooden tower with a new fibreglass cupula was constructed, which was replaced by a steel tower in 1969. The current Athabasca lookout tower was constructed in 2012. Most cabins at the lookout sites have a common space, a kitchen, a living room or dining area, a bedroom, and an office with a radio. The Athabasca site also has power and a phone, but most towers run on generators. 

None of the towers have running water, and potable water has to be brought in. Water is collected off the roof and into a storage tank for wash water, which is piped into the house.

“When I started my career, that was the drinking water too, it was the runoff off the roof. It was filtered out with a piece of cloth to get all the little shingle pieces out,” Scobie added.

Tower observers apply and are interviewed before they train for one week to operate the tower. Go to for more information.

Town and CEAC ready to engage community in climate protection

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Administration is ready to work with the Community Engagement Advisory Committee (CEAC) on emission reduction targets as part of the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) Program.

“I’m excited that CEAC has the opportunity to actually be tasked with something specific. I think that’s a lot of what has been lacking and I hope this is something they can kind of latch onto and actually feel purposeful,” said Coun. Dewly Nelson.

Coun. Tyler Waugh added that CEAC is open to learning more about what their role is in this project as well as what the timeline of this project looks like.

Hinton is part of the PCP Program, a network for Canadian municipal governments that have committed to reducing greenhouse gases and acting on climate change. 

The program promotes five milestones that tackle climate change, including creating a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and forecast, setting an emissions reductions target, developing a local action plan, implementing the local action plan or a set of activities, and monitoring progress and report results.

Hinton completed the first milestone of creating a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and forecast, and completed the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Maturity Scale report under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) program requirements.

Peter Vana, Hinton’s director of development services, stated that the real community engagement piece will come into play during work of milestone 3.

“As you’re kind of going through that planning process to create your new community sustainability plan, and complete milestone three, there will be full engagement in the community and we sort of see CEAC helping to spearhead that initiative and certainly involving all members of the community,” said Vana.

The Delphi Group, an environmental consultant, assisted the Town in both completing the Maturity Scale report and the milestone 1 reporting. 

They also established corporate and community GHG emission inventories, GHG projections, and options for reducing corporate and community GHG emissions.

According to their report, the Town’s greatest corporate source, 80.5 per cent, of GHG emissions is from the landfill, followed by buildings. 

The Town’s greatest source of energy use, 59.7 per cent, is from natural gas followed by 25.8 per cent from electricity use. 

In the overall community, the highest levels of GHG emissions, 38.2 per cent, are from on-road transportation use, followed by an equal distribution among commercial and institutional, manufacturing, and residential uses. 

Over 61 per cent of the energy source at the community level comes from natural gas and 38.4 per cent from electricity. 

The Delphi Group prepared a list of potential corporate and community inventory reduction opportunities, and ranked these by priority, identifying them to prepare a potential emissions reduction target for the year 2030. 

The projections produced indicate that the Town has the potential to reduce its 2018 corporate GHG emission levels by 20 per cent, and the community GHG emissions by 6 per cent by 2030. 

To complete milestone 2, Administration will work with the CEAC committee to recommend reduction targets for the Town and the community.

Administration will present the final recommendations for emission and energy reduction targets to Council for approval. 

“The plan for completion of the milestone work is proposed to take six years. At this time, no budget has been requested but as work progresses, the milestone work itself, particularly milestone four, where implementation of the action plan begins, may require investment,” said CAO Emily Olsen.

Milestone 2 is proposed to be completed in 2021, while milestone 3 is proposed to be started in 2022 and completed in 2023. 

Milestone 4 and milestone 5 will be carried out over the following three years, subject to the recommendations from the action plan, and approval of future capital and operating budgets.

During 2018 and 2019, Hinton participated in the Energy Futures Lab (EFL) Roadshow sponsored by The Natural Step Canada and funded by FCM. 

The results from the Roadshow contributed to Hinton’s understanding of where the Town is relative to the “maturity scale” to initiate the first milestone step in the PCP program.

Nelson brought up that the Hinton Community Sustainability Plan (CSP) update was postponed in order to know what was happening with the PCP framework.

Olsen explained administration is working to complete the PCP milestone one and two prior to revisiting the CSP and that without further direction, council will see an update on the CSP once milestone 2 is complete.

Vana added this could take between two to three months.

Town hall in-person and via zoom this fall

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council is moving forward with a hybrid online and in-person Town Hall event this fall in order to engage with the public on budget discussions.

“The intention is to hold this event within the first two weeks of November, prior to budget deliberation meetings planned for later in the month,” said CAO Emily Olsen.

The Town Hall would be held in the Performing Arts Theatre of Hinton (PATH), with limited attendance to comply with the Art Society Hinton (ASH) and Government of Alberta COVID-19 measures.

At the same time, the event would be livestreamed, and users can submit questions in advance via email or during the session via the Youtube Live Chat.

“Last year, we did a great town hall, it was really well received. Obviously, this year is going to be modified and different and I’m excited to take part in it and curious to see how it goes and what the uptake is,” said Coun. Dewly Nelson.

Any time council has a chance to interact with the public and get some feedback on what’s happening with the Town budget or what some of the high level issues are, is beneficial for council, added Coun. Ryan Maguhn.

A second direction was postponed directing administration to prepare a report detailing recommendations on other town hall options in preparation for a future Town Hall and other organizational engagement events.

“I’m really curious to hear what the community has to say about the zoom [meeting], what the participation level is, what the interaction is,” said Nelson.

He added that the results of the upcoming town hall will bring some clarity to future conversations with citizens about this decision and potentially change the scope of any future report from administration.

In 2019, Council held an in-person Town Hall event at the PATH, which several councilors mentioned was a successful event.

COVID-19 forced Council Meetings to no longer be held in-person and required new technologies to be activated to enable open governance. 

Administration rapidly configured a Zoom Live Stream and Meeting solutions, and has successfully continued this practice through the pandemic. This capacity has also been built into the Council Chambers now.

There are options to deliver a higher quality product by upgrading to a higher-level software package with better meeting management tools, wider audience and participant numbers, and enable organization wide access to the Zoom Web Conference or Seminar tools.

Administration has also done preliminary investigations into other solutions outside of the currently used platform for Councils consideration.