COVID case sends students home

Masha Scheele

Precautionary measure impacts seven classes at EMV

Seven classes at Ecole Mountain View were sent home as the result of an individual from the elementary school testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday, Nov. 30.

“We are sending home people as a precautionary measure and there’s one positive COVID-19 case here, it affects a lot of people, but there has only been one COVID case. Our hope is that everybody will stay home as a precaution and will be safe and will be OK,” said Kurt Scobie, principal of Mountain View.

Scobie explained that this is not considered an outbreak, but students will have to monitor for symptoms during their 14 days of required isolation after last contact with the case.

In the meantime, teachers will provide students with at-home assignments and learning until they return to school on Dec. 9.

Teachers are working on what the next six class days will look like and will send out packages to their students.

“I think the teachers feel it is easier overall to move into online learning. It’s not the same difficulty as there was in March,” Scobie said.

The school was notified of the positive COVID-19 result on the morning of Nov. 30, but the individual had been self-isolating since the onset of symptoms on Nov. 25.

Through contact tracing, anyone who was in close contact on Nov. 23, 24, and 25 was notified.

School staff immediately determined that the individual worked within close proximity of students in two Grade three classes who were then sent home.

“You want everybody to be safe and you don’t want to send anybody home scared. We were sending home Grade three’s in the middle of the day. Their teachers did a fantastic job of keeping them calm, being supportive for them, all of it. Answering all the questions they needed to,” Scobie said.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) explained that anyone in the same room as the individual for at least 15 minutes, masked or not, would be considered a close contact.

The individual was wearing a mask for the duration of their time in each classroom.

After speaking with AHS, five more classes were notified that the individual had been in their classroom and they would be required to stay home as well. 

Families from one grade one, grade two, grade six, and two grade five classes were contacted.

Scobie said that while the process went smoothly, contacting the families and caretakers was difficult. Teachers and staff don’t want to send students home and want to provide the best learning environment as possible, he added.

“We feel bad and nobody wants to be the person that has COVID. Everybody that’s here cares about these kids and wants to do the best by them and it’s devastating to be the person that has covid and feels they’ve disappointed everyone,” Scobie said.

Parents were very understanding and staff were able to answer as many questions as they could.

Scobie explained that siblings of primary contacts can still continue coming to school and only primary contacts have to stay home to isolate.

All classes are cleaned every day and affected classrooms will undergo a deep clean.

Students don’t have to get tested unless they show symptoms. Pending any other positive cases, students and teachers will return to school on Dec. 9. 

Families of students and staff were reminded to monitor for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and fill out the online Alberta Health Services COVID-19 self-assessment or call Health Link at 811 if they notice symptoms.

Scobie noted that the health unit has been very supportive as well as the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD).

“Everytime we’re confused about something and we ask, we get answers. I get answers from my division that are good and I get answers from AHS that’s been good,” Scobie said.

Dr. Kelly Harding, assistant superintendent at GYPSD, stated that the division is proud of how their teachers are handling the situation and are focusing on kids learning. 

“From a division perspective, we are very appreciative of the hard work of every school leader and the families and the staff who contribute to keeping the school risk free of transmission,” she said.

Diana Rinne, senior communications advisor at AHS, noted that an SMS text system was implemented to quickly notify persons of their positive COVID-19 test results.

“This means that people are getting test results 24/7 and receive the instructions to immediately isolate. As such, when students test positive for COVID-19, parents often receive a text message ahead of being phoned by AHS and will often notify their child’s school before AHS has completed contact tracing,” Rinne said.

AHS is prioritizing school-aged children for case investigations and contact tracing and streamlining the process to ensure that teachers and school staff are easily identified for prioritization as well.  

With confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise across Alberta, local Dr. Noel Corser stated that Hinton’s hospital is also feeling the pressure.

“Our hospital doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is affected by the overall health system – currently Jasper is unable to admit new patients so they may come here, and we’ve had to open space for Edmonton patients because Edmonton is overflowing,” Corser stated.

When Edmonton is severely backed up, it’s more likely that patients who need Edmonton-level care won’t be able to get it, and that’s scary, he reiterated.

Corser stated that people should not avoid coming to the hospital if they’re sick, which happened to some extent in the spring, and led to worse outcomes in some cases.

People should avoid leaving their house if they’re sick for any reason other than going to the hospital, he added.

“We got lucky in the spring, and have been lucky since then. Ignoring the public health advice is a bit like drinking and driving–you can get away with it for a while, but sooner or later you’re going to kill somebody,” Corser said.

Doing the right thing will get Alberta through this, he added, which means abiding by the restrictions.

During the council meeting on Dec. 1, CAO Emily Olsen noted that the mandatory mask bylaw has been received well with some questions and without any enforcement issues. There had been no complaints about anyone not following the bylaw.

As of Dec. 1, Hinton had 12 active cases of COVID-19 in its region.

Due to a provincial order passed on Nov. 27, all regions and municipalities that entered into enhanced status during the order, like Hinton, will remain in an enhanced status until at least Dec. 15, Olsen added.“That’s been confirmed that Hinton has passed that threshold after Nov. 27 and will remain enhanced until further notice,” Olsen said.

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.

No social gatherings allowed, says Kenney

Masha Scheele

Enhanced public health measures have been implemented across Alberta as a result of the continuing rise of COVID-19 cases.

Measures were announced on Nov. 24 by Premiere Jason Kenney, who stated that the mandatory restrictions will be in place for three weeks at which point they will be reviewed.

“I certainly did not go into public service, nor did anyone sitting around our cabinet table, in order to impose restrictions on how people live their lives. But we believe these are the minimum restrictions needed right now to safeguard our healthcare system, while avoiding widespread damage to people’s livelihoods,” Kenney stated.

He noted that social gatherings are the key reason why COVID-19 continues to spread.

Indoor close contacts must be limited to people in the same household, and people who live alone can have up to the same two non-household contacts for the duration of the restriction.

Mandatory restriction across Alberta include no indoor social gatherings in any setting, a maximum of 10 people at outdoor gatherings as well as weddings and funeral services, no receptions permitted, no festivals or events, at-home learning for grades 7-12 between Nov. 30 and Jan. 11, at-home learning for grades K-6 between Dec. 18 and Jan. 11, and working from home where possible.

Diploma exams are optional for the rest of the school year and students and families can choose to write an exam or receive an exemption for the January, April, June and August 2021 exams.

“Rising cases in our workplaces and homes driven disproportionately by social gatherings means that we are seeing rising cases in schools as well. There is limited transmission within the schools but more community transmission affecting the schools and their ability to operate,” Kenney said.

While the province only made masks mandatory in the Calgary and Edmonton zones, Hinton has its own mandatory mask bylaw for all public spaces for those aged five and up.

Hinton is currently included in the enhanced area where places of worship are only allowed at ⅓ of normal attendance, as well as restricted access to some businesses and services starting Nov. 27.

Businesses and services closed include banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoria and concert venues, non-approved or licensed markets, community centres, children’s play places or indoor playgrounds, and all levels of sport.

Restaurants, bars, pubs and lounges are allowed to remain open until 11 pm with a maximum of six people from the same immediate household at a table, only allowing people who live alone to meet with two non-household contacts, and not allowing other services like billiards, games, or darts.

Most retail businesses, such as grocery stores and clothing stores, may remain open with capacity limited to 25 per cent of their Alberta Fire Code occupancy. Several entertainment services have the same restrictions, including movie theatres, museums, and libraries.

Businesses normally open by appointment only will not be allowed to offer walk in services.

Violating the public health order may come at a cost of a $1,000 fine, and individuals can be prosecuted for up to $100,000 for a first offense.

“We will enforce these rules against social gatherings and those who break these rules will be subject to fines,” Kenney said.

He added that the province will look for ways to allow peace officers to fine those breaking the rules.

Measures are put in place now in order for the province to review before Christmas, and measures can be adjusted in the meantime based on the results, Kenney said.

“Just 11 days ago, I told Albertans that we were at a dangerous juncture. We resisted calls for a lockdown of our society because of the profound damage it would cause especially for the poor and vulnerable who are most affected by policies like that,” Kenney noted.

Instead, previous targeted measures focused on places where the data clearly showed COVID-19 was spreading, but the virus continues to spread and is picking up speed.

The virus continues to set records for daily confirmed cases and as of Nov. 24 there have been 492 deaths related to COVID-19 in Alberta.

Continuing care outbreaks have quadrupled since Oct. 1, putting the most vulnerable at risk.

Kenney stated that Alberta has 8,400 acute care beds, which the province is working to increase.

As of Nov. 24, 348 Albertans were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and 66 were in intensive care.

Hinton has ten confirmed active cases of COVID-19 as of Nov. 24, and Yellowhead County has 14.

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.

Federal assessment on Vista continues despite review application

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The federal impact assessment process of the proposed Vista Coal Underground Mine and the Vista Coal Mine Phase II Expansion Projects is going ahead while the judicial review application is waiting to be heard in federal court.

Karen Fish, communications advisor for the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, stated that on Oct. 16, the Federal Court established a timeline for the next steps in the review application. 

“As such, if Coalspur Mines (Operations) Ltd. wishes to proceed with the projects, it must submit an initial project description to the Agency, thereby commencing the planning phase under the Impact Assessment Act,” Fish stated in an email to The Voice.

Coalspur Mines LTD, the company that operates the Vista coal mine located just 10 kilometres east of Hinton, applied to the federal court for a judicial review of the Vista mine designation for a federal assessment.

Gerald Soroka, Member of Parliament for Yellowhead stated on Oct. 16 that a date and place had not yet been set by the judicial administrator for the judicial review application by Coalspur to be heard. 

“At this rate it seems that the government is trying to use their “death by delay” strategy to kill the project like they have so many other Natural Resource projects,” Soroka stated.

A case management conference regarding this application on Oct. 19 was cancelled.

Instead, the applicant was ordered by the federal case management judge to serve its affidavits and documentary exhibits, and file proof of service by Oct. 30.

In turn, the respondents were ordered to serve their affidavits and documentary exhibits, and file proof of service by Dec. 7.

All parties will complete cross-examinations of affidavits by Jan. 15, 2021. The applicant will then serve and file the applicant’s record by Feb. 4, 2021 and the respondent will serve and file their respective respondent’s records by March 22, 2021.

By April 1, 2021 the applicant will serve and file a requisition for herding and this order is made without cost, according to the court order from Oct. 16.

This means the request for a hearing must be filed by April 1, 2021.

The review application came after Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Jonathan Wilkinson, designated the Vista mine for the federal impact assessment, reversing an earlier decision.

The notice of application stated that the designation is an unlawful, incorrect, unreasonable, and unconstitutional exercise of ministerial discretion.

Under the federal Impact Assessment Act, Minister Wilkinson has the discretionary authority to designate projects to require a Federal assessment even if they don’t exceed legislatively prescribed thresholds within the regulations to determine if an assessment is required.

The regulatory thresholds include coal mine expansions that would result in an increase in the area of mining operations of 50 per cent or more and a total coal production capacity of 5,000 tonnes per day or more after the expansion, according to the impact assessment agency’s analysis report.

The combined area of mining operations for the Vista mine Projects would be just below the 50 per cent threshold, but well above the total coal production capacity threshold of 5,000 tonnes per day.

The Impact Assessment Agency and the Minister agreed in December 2019 that a discretionary designation order was not appropriate for the proposed Phase II expansion of the Vista mine.

At the time, the minister stated that the potential risks to the environment and Indigenous rights would be dealt with appropriately by the provincial approval process.

With the addition of an underground mine project within Phase I, the minister said that the two Vista mine projects combined may result in adverse effects of greater magnitude than previously considered.

MP Soroka rose in the House of Commons in September to ask the government when the Vista mine would receive approval to expand operations.

“When will the government finally admit that it does not want any form of natural extraction in Canada?” Soroka questioned.

In response, Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, denied that statement and said there has been continued support for energy sector workers. 

“Just during this pandemic, we invested over $1.7B to help clean up abandoned oil wells. We have invested $750M to support the efforts in the oil sector to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. We have put in place measures to support the workers, and we will continue to do that,” Schiefke said.

Wilkinson designated the Vista Underground Test Mine Project and the Vista Coal Mine Phase II Expansion Project as reviewable under the federal impact assessment process on July 30, 2020.

He did not explain how areas of federal jurisdiction would be impacted, why the projects are considered together, and how the underground mine project would cause Phase II to be a designated project, stated Coalspur’s Notice of Application for review.

The Impact Assessment Agency re-confirmed on July 30 that the combined proposed expansions did not meet the 50 per cent threshold.

Various Canadian environmental, Indigenous, health, civil society, and faith groups, were behind a letter sent out this spring that called out the Canadian government for hypocrisy following its failure to designate the expansion plans for an environmental assessment.

The designation could delay the construction and expansion of this mine by six to nine years, stated an executive with the company that owns Coalspur Mine Ltd in a meeting with the Hinton Rotary in August.

Vista Coal Mine is an open-pit surface coal mine for the extraction and export of thermal coal. 

Construction of Phase II was initially proposed to start in January 2022, while construction for the underground mine was proposed to start in 2020.

Over $700M has been invested into the mine to date with the understanding that expansion would be reviewed under the Alberta environmental review process.

An application for the underground mine was filed with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in 2019 and resubmitted on Feb. 5, 2020.

Respondents listed on the notice of application for the judicial review included the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the attorney general of Canada, Louis Bull Tribe, Keepers of the water council, keepers of the Athabasca watershed society, the west Athabasca watershed bioregional society, and Stoney Nakoda Nations.

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.