By Trevor Busch
Strong objections from the agricultural sector have been raised over a road ban placed by the town on 50th Street north of 64th Avenue, which limits use and access by heavy vehicles and equipment.
At their Sept. 28 meeting, Taber town council received a large delegation headed by Bruce Nakamura, including other representatives from the agricultural and transport industries, which voiced concerns over limited access to the re-paved roadway between 64th Avenue and 80th Avenue.
“I’ve farmed 45 years on that road, and all the sudden we’re closed off from using it totally with every piece of equipment, except for pickups,” said Nakamura. “I don’t know who is allowed to use it, and who is not allowed to use it, but I see a lot of heavy trucks going on there.”
Prior to the meeting, Nakamura Farms had submitted a letter expressing concerns about the ability to use heavy trucks and equipment on the newly-rebuilt portion of 50th Street.
“I think it’s a big safety issue,” said Nakamura. “If you start diverting every piece of equipment — Randy (Coun. Sparks) knows how much, he’s been on that road for 40 years, too, he knows how much traffic is on there — we’re not the only individual farmer that uses that road. But if you put everything to the highway (Highway 36) they’re making left turns and coming out of there to a single lane highway, I just can’t believe the safety issue.”
According to town administration, allowing truck traffic will cause the roadway to degrade more quickly than if weights are restricted. Sec. 18 of the Municipal Government Act grants council care and control over municipal roadways.
“If it’s 5,000 kg, how is a truck and RV going to go across there?” questioned Nakamura. “How is a school bus going to go across there? How about the acreage owners pulling a trailer with a 1,000 gallon water tank?”
Gary Scherer, director of public works, clarified that special event vehicles for recreational purposes, such as charter busses, as well as school busses and adjacent landowners, are exempt from the road ban.
“Just a clarification — the town put this bylaw in place with a weight restriction on that road, but the people who actually have property off that road are allowed to use it, they need a special permit,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger.
Concerns listed by Nakamura in his letter to council included determination on who has access to utilize the road; communication between Town of Taber staff, Taber police, and the community; safety concerns about alternative routes on Highways 3 and 36; weight restrictions on traffic utilizing the road; and numerous businesses, farms, and water trucks who utilize the road, including the Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber.
Truck-related business operators in the gallery were also unimpressed by the new restriction, which now necessitates a detour impacting safety and efficiency for their operations.
“As an industry, I think we’re going to end up talking to the transportation department, and you’ll have to spend millions of dollars to build a side-lane access onto the road to allow trucks to speed up and slow down,” said a concerned business representative from the gallery. “It’s a major safety concern. Last week, I was harvesting down that road, and I sent 300 trucks to have to bypass that whole intersection. That probably cost me $3,000 to $4,000 in lost time. The time is not the issue — I don’t care about the time. I care if one of my drivers hits somebody, or kills somebody. The way that road is set up right now, it’s going to kill somebody. I want you to hold that on your heads about the restriction to this road, because it is a major farm access area. Now whether or not you and the M.D. can get along, I don’t care. You guys are creating a safety issue there that I think creates a huge liability for the town.”
Mayor DeVlieger appeared to question the assertion that the intersection of 80th Avenue and Highway 36 was any more or less dangerous than any other intersection on that highway.
“Highway 36 has lots of farm truck coming on to Highway 36, and it’s the same situation probably at every intersection going north. Is it a safety issue at all intersections?”
Other concerns expressed from the gallery by business representatives included the highway speed limit on Highway 36 when entering from 80th Avenue (due to an alternative route necessitated by the road ban), the lack of a turning lane at the same intersection, as well as it being a “blind hill”, the present and future condition of 80th Avenue if there was to be a dramatic increase in truck traffic, a restriction of 5,000 kg being too onerous for area residents and business operators, business impacts on agricultural contractors and water haulers, and increased traffic on 80th Avenue anticipated after construction of a town compost facility.
“When it comes down to it, I think the town has somewhat set the M.D. up in terms of a conflict relationship,” said another delegation member. “I feel the town should have publicly announced — before it was built — about the ban, to allow the opportunity to complain to our M.D. (representatives) before the road was built.”
Other proposals from the delegation included the possibility of a 75 per cent road ban instead of the present restrictions, or public consultations in future, and the possible utility of a new access to the area following construction of the Eureka Industrial development and a new intersection on Highway 36 between 64th Avenue and 72nd Avenue.
“We had to upgrade this road. You all know it was in bad shape,” said DeVlieger. “Whoever put the road in at the time didn’t put a road base under it, which we found out, and led to a larger expense to bring the road up to a certain standard. Once we found that out, we put in a request to the Municipal District of Taber to see if we could get some sand and gravel. The reason that we asked for that was to see if we somehow could get some co-operation from the M.D. to bring this road up to a certain standard.”
At their March 23 regular meeting, town council had voted unanimously to direct administration to construct a 50th Street road rehabilitation (64th Avenue to 80th Avenue) to a minor collector road standard. This decision was made by council against the advice of administration, which had recommended constructing the 50th Street rehabilitation to industrial collector road standards, which could have supported heavy truck and equipment traffic.
“That letter was first rejected in a motion, and in the second motion they (M.D. of Taber) told us they’d tabled it and wanted to talk to us,” said DeVlieger on Sept. 28. “The meeting we had together, explained the whole reason why and what it’s all about, because we know that you as farmers and others as well are using this road. So we brought that up, and we were told they were not going to participate with the gravel. We were told they weren’t going to do that, one of the reasons Mr. Elfring (M.D. of Taber Coun. Ben Elfring) said was they didn’t want to compete with free enterprise that sells the gravel, and there was no way they could do that by law.”
A 50th Street road rehabilitation built to industrial collector road standards would have required a 25 per cent increase in the cost of the project due to two layers of asphalt and a thicker granular base, based on a road structure designed for truck route applications. An industrial collector road would have a longer life span, adding an additional 10 years. A minor collector road standard is primarily used for light vehicles and not truck routes.
At the time, Scherer had indicated the cost of constructing the 50th Street improvement to an industrial collector standard would have been approximately $1.4 million, while construction of a minor collector road standard shaved about $400,000 off the total bill.
At their Jan. 12 regular council meeting, Coun. Jack Brewin had requested that council direct administration to enter into discussion with the M.D. of Taber to determine if they were “willing to participate” in the 50th Street upgrade from 64th Avenue to 80th Avenue.
Mayor DeVlieger laid the blame for the town’s decision to construct the road to a minor collector standard on the refusal of the M.D. of Taber to co-operate with the project at its inception.
“So we discussed the problem, and they were not willing to participate, and in their words ‘this is your guy’s problem, it’s a farmer’s problem’. I think probably some of the other councillors can confirm that. That has kind of been the atmosphere we’ve been working in. We, as the town, are faced with large expenses — upgrading our sewage lagoons for millions of dollars, our stormwater, because we cannot dump it anymore into the TID (Taber Irrigation District) lake because they have stringent requirements. We are faced with millions of millions of dollars, so we really have to be prudent with our money, and make sure what’s best — first of all — for Taber, because our money only goes so far. All we were asking for was to participate with some gravel, and it was rejected, and that’s the main reason that we had to stick with a road that carries less weight.”
In a heated exchange highly critical of M.D. of Taber council, Coun. Joe Strojwas called that municipality “cheap” and “not willing to collaborate” with the town on the project.
“I battled that with councillors in our meeting, because I know you guys use that road quite diligently, and use it regularly,” said Strojwas. “It was very pointed from Mr. Elfring (M.D. of Taber Coun. Ben Elfring) — he said he didn’t care about Nakamura’s situation on that farmland over there. That’s really unfortunate, because these guys stand up in the paper, and they advertise in the paper when they make comments, that they are cheap. The fact is that, yes they are cheap, and they’re not willing to collaborate with the town to resolve solve of these issues. They’re not fiscally responsible. They advertise themselves as being cheap, and as much as I argued that point to stand up for you guys out there, we were shut down.”
Strojwas went on to suggest delegation members bring the issue to M.D. of Taber council for further discussion.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation. You need to get back to your M.D. councillors and express your dismay with them. You elected them, and if they’re not working properly for you, it’s up to you to let them know. The town cannot be responsible for commercial roadways coming into town to haul potatoes through town. There is Highway 36 and Highway 3.”
Michele Camps, a landowner adjacent to the roadway in question, countered from the gallery that he had already attempted to bring the issue to M.D. of Taber council, while making reference to comments made by Strojwas in open session earlier this year when the project was still under consideration.
“My M.D. councillor told me to talk to my town people, because it’s the town’s road, that’s what they told me. That’s how you go back and forth. In the paper when this whole thing was going to get done, at one point in time there was a comment made that ‘just a few farmers use it’.”
Mayor DeVlieger also encouraged the delegation to meet with M.D. of Taber council to find potential solutions to the issue.
“I personally recommend you go back to your council members that represent you as M.D. residents, and see what they are willing to do. The road can be brought up to standard with extra asphalt. Just an extra comment on 80th Avenue. The M.D. is supposed to look after that road. That’s an agreement that was made with the M.D. a number of years ago at the request of the M.D., to help people out. They have to fix it up and maintain it.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz appeared more amenable to the concerns of the delegation, but emphasized the town was trying to protect its assets.
“We’ll work with you to go to Alberta Transportation to try to make a turning lane. It makes sense to have a turning lane on Highway 36. Basically, it comes down to an asset. We’ve put an asset in the ground, a big investment, we’ve paved this road, we want to take care of it and maintain it as best we can. If we can’t work together as a community, than we’re not doing our jobs as councillors.”
Coun. Randy Sparks asked the delegation to allow time for council to further discuss the issue in future to see if possible solutions could be arrived at.
“I understand where Nakamura Farms is coming from. Someone at one time may have made a comment that only one farmer that uses 50th Street, we all know that’s not true. I understand all of your concerns, and don’t think council doesn’t, because we do. Could this have been handled a little bit different? Maybe it could have. But you can’t point your finger all at the Town of Taber, because I don’t care what your M.D. councillors are telling you, we know the real story is here. We will take this into consultation and see what we can do.”