By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Twelve of Morinville’s 15 mayoral, council and school trustee candidates braved a chilly evening to gather in a South Glens driveway Tuesday night, answering questions from about two dozen residents of the roughly 280-home subdivision located southeast of Morinville proper. Candidates Lucie Roy, Ben Van De Walle and Kerry Knight did not attend, although Knight sent regrets that she was double booked that evening.
The forum was organized and co-moderated by South Glens residents Monique Webb and Gillian Percy, who addressed a number of local concerns to candidates before turning the microphone over to the residents themselves. The moderated questions included candidates’ intentions for providing a proper path from South Glens to Morinville proper, the issue of South Glens single entrance and exit, the development of a proper playground for the community, what will be done about the odour emanating from Champion Pet Foods and the dangerous conditions that exist at the Cardiff corner.
South Glens Pathway
On the matter of the pathway between South glens and the rest of Morinville, incumbent Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said a trail had been created from the subdivision after permission was received from a landowner to build a trail across his property. However, in travelling the trail Monday, Bertschi said he realized the trail was not adequate.
“You shouldn’t have to go mud bogging when you go walking with your carts,” Bertschi said, noting the trail is unacceptable as it stands. “What I would suggest that we do, if we cannot agree with the land owner that we can put a proper trail and connect it to the industrial park, then we’ll probably expropriate the land to make it happen.”
Bertschi’s opponent, Joseph Trapani, agreed that the existing seasonal trail is not acceptable. “It came to council a few months ago and we put a band aide solution. We basically didn’t do it right and the bottom line is in the very near future, under my leadership, you’ll have that fixed. By spring time you’ll have a place to go back and forth.”
Council candidate David Pattison, agreed with the incumbent mayor, but said he would take things a step further. “I would suggest the time for negotiation is over,” Pattison said. “I would recommend that we expropriate the land. I wouldn’t put a hard surface on. I’d put something a little softer, but something that is permeable.”
Incumbent Councillor Gordon Boddez said he also walked the trail prior to the South Glens forum. “It almost came in disbelief when I walked that trail that goes to the industrial park,” Boddez said. “We did a terrible job for you. It has to be rectified, and my first thought was that we should just integrate it in a similar manner that we’ve done with our other trail systems.”
South Glens Entrance
Another area of concern for residents was the community’s single entrance and exit, something all candidates who answered felt needed to be addressed.
Trapani said he was concerned that there was only one way in and one way out. “We have to make [a] way so we can have emergency exits out of here faster and better,” the candidate said, noting he is sure other exits will be created when more phases of the development are completed. “But now you’re living here. We need to improve it. There’s different roads and we need our engineers to check out where we can actually put in a road so that it’s safe for you to go in and out and move to the main drag going up 100 Street or going into town or out of town instead of always doing the loop.”
Bertschi agreed that further exits would be developed as the development grows, but suggested the trails may provide a solution. “Our trails, when we build them to our trail standard, do accommodate vehicles and we can simply put bollards [short vertical posts] up so our emergency vehicles can access there. We don’t want to turn it into a route directly into the community because that’s not what it’s intended to be. But we could use that trail very adequately as a second emergency exit.”
Champion Foods Odour
Like much of Morinville, South Glens residents are concerned with the smells frequently emanating from the Champion Pet Foods plant, a situation acknowledged by all candidates.
Council candidate Paul Krauskopf said administration had been working closely with the factory to address and solve the issue, leading to the installation of a $500,000 device to cut down the odour. The incumbent councillor said the matter is set to come before council on Oct. 26.
“We can’t just go in there and say, ‘OK, you guys are shut down,’” Krauskopf said. “You’ve got to get Alberta Environment involved. It’s a long process and I understand your frustration with the smell. Trust me, I live a lot closer than you guys do and I smell it quite regularly. Hopefully we’ll have some resolution to this quite soon.”
Pattison, who chairs the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) in Morinville, said the committee has refused to allow the plant to go ahead with its expansion plans until it meets Alberta Environment standards. “Right now, we’ve made it very clear at the Municipal Planning Commission that no further expansion is to be allowed until it does meet the standard.”
Boddez, who is also on the MPC, said he believed the plant had reached the limits on the land that they have and would have to move to another location to expand. However, for Boddez there are alternatives to dealing with the odour problem.
“We really do have to measure and evaluate the emissions that are coming out of that plant,” Boddez said. “Right now we just rely on what information they give us and we want our administration to take a stronger approach on that.”
The council incumbent suggested getting the plant to raise their smoke stacks another 100 feet or more so the exhaust would dissipate in the air at a higher elevation as a possible solution.
“That plant provides the highest amount of taxes of any business in Morinville and we really wouldn’t want to see that plant leave this community if we can help it,” Boddez said.
Council candidate Nicole Boutestein said in talks with Morinville’s CAO Edie Doepker she had learned that an independent company was coming in December to measure the odour in the air to compare levels prior to and after the installation of the odour neutralizing device. “I know it’s not an immediate solution, but the town is moving forward and we are trying to help.”
Trapani said he knew the current council and the next council had not nor would not sit still on the matter. “I campaigned a lot of doors and that’s all I hear – the smell, the smell, the smell,” Trapani said. “When council realized there was this big smell, they talked to the owner. We did our due diligence. They decided to put in a half a million dollar equipment to fix it. And we heard no complaints for the first month, month and a half. Then after that the equipment wasn’t working well or failed and there’s different reasons why it failed. My sources say it was mechanical. Others say that the part broke. The bottom line is we need to be telling them to fix it so the smell goes back to what it’s supposed to be.”
Trapani said there also needs to be independent testing to see how hazardous the emissions are to residents. “I don’t want to be in the position to tell them to pack up and leave, but I want to be in the position to help the business do what they’re supposed to be doing and make our life a lot easier,” Trapani said.
Property Taxes and Business
Although attracting new business to Morinville to increase the residential / commercial split in property taxes has been offered throughout the campaign as a means to lower residential property taxes, moderators asked candidates what they would do to attract business while ensuring that council did not put the needs of business and industry over the needs of the residents.
Incumbent Councillor Donna Phinney said she felt it was important for the town to acquire some industrial serviced land to be able to attract business to the community. Phinney said she felt Morinville was in a similar boat to St. Albert and that as the town’s population grows, businesses will naturally be drawn to the community. “It’s out of our hands, the downtown,” she said. “We don’t own those buildings. We don’t have a lot of say, but we do have say when it comes to getting industrial land. We can buy it and sell it off piece by piece.”
Co-moderator Monique Webb, in clarifying the question, said she didn’t want to see the town so desperate for business that the needs of the residents are set aside or compromised.
Krauskopf said it is important not to put business interests ahead of the interests of the residents but felt attracting businesses was important so as to increase the split in the tax base from the unacceptable 93/7 split to a more acceptable 85/15 or 80/20 split. “It is surely not my intention to ever make it easier for businesses to come to town just because we want businesses,” he said. “We have to make sure that we get the right business and we need to do an economic development strategy, an economic development committee, and even an economic development officer to make sure that these things are done properly.”
Council candidate Lisa Holmes said it is important to make sure the Town’s processes are open. “When it comes to businesses, you want to make sure that all the residents know what’s happening,” Holmes said. “They know what’s going on. They know the process a business needs to go through to get a development permit in town. They need to know the processes and things that are happening in council meetings. We need to make sure that Town Council gives a good message to the residents and allows that everything that they are doing when it comes to business retention and attracting new business is really open.”
Trapani said he didn’t want to dwell on the past, but pointed out that in the past many deals were made on a napkin. “What we need as council and mayor, we need to sit down and review the process on how we do these development[s],” Trapani said. “We need to review the policy and what we have and don’t have. And that’s a council mandate to basically make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the betterment of Morinville.”
Council candidate Pattison said changes need to be made to how business applications are handled. The candidate cited a recent example from the planning commission where seven applications were brought before the commission, four of which could have been handled without the commission’s involvement.
Incumbent Mayor Lloyd Bertschi told South Glens residents that until 2007 the mil rate between business and residential was consistent. “In 2008 the value of residential property had risen so much and the value of industrial had dropped significantly,” Bertschi said. “Businesses were actually going to receive a tax deduction that particular year on the backs of the residents.” Bertschi said the council of the day decided the situation was not right and the Town of Morinville split its mil rate for the first time. “When we split that mil rate, we protected our residents from higher taxes than they would have if we hadn’t done that.”