By Nikki Jamieson
During the regular council meeting on Nov. 24, the Municipal District of Taber councillors met with local farmers Bruce and Greg Nakamura to discuss the ban on 50th Street that has sparked debate between the Town of Taber and the M.D. of Taber.
As it currently stands, as of early September this year no heavy vehicles were allowed on the newly paved road all year round.
“We weren’t aware that they were putting this ban on it until Sept. 7,” said Brian Brewin, reeve for the M.D. “We basically found out when all our trucks got stopped on it, that the ban was going on. So we weren’t aware that this ban was going on anymore then you guys were.”
Taber Town council voted during their March 23 meeting to perform a road rehabilitation on 50th Street – 64th Avenue to 80th Avenue – to a minor road collector standard, against the advice of administration, who wanted it built to industrial collector road standards.
A road built to industrial standards would have been able to support the weight of heavy truck and equipment traffic, and have an additional ten years to its lifespan. There would have also been a 25 percent increase in costs, for a total of $1.4 million, due to the road requiring two layers of asphalt and a thicker granular base.
However, while constructing a road to minor road standards was about $400,000 cheaper, it also cannot support the weight as well and will degrade more quickly.
A road ban has been put in place to prevent this. Special event vehicles for recreational purposes are exempt from this ban, and landowners must get a special permit if they want to bring their heavy vehicles onto the road.
Since the road’s completion, local farmers and landowners have expressed serious concerns over their lack of ability to use the road for tasks such as moving farming equipment or hauling water tanks, as well as the safety issues involved with diverting traffic to Highway 3 or 36. Local business owners have also expressed concerns on the detour, citing a decline of safety and efficiency for local business.
In addition, farmers believe that there is a double standard going on, since Town of Taber vehicles can continue to use the road, but there is a ban for everyone else.
“You can’t have it so that Taber Pipe can go on that road and nobody else; it doesn’t make no sense,” said Greg Nakamura. “But they have something to do with the town, that’s why they’re allowed on there. You can’t have two (different) standards.”
At their Jan. 12 meeting, Taber town council voted to enter into talks with M.D. council to buy gravel from them, wanting the M.D. to help bring the road up to standard. The M.D. council ultimately rejected the offer, citing liability issues.
During the M.D. meeting, Brewin said the Town of Taber only asked for permission to buy the gravel from them, and never actually asked for the gravel itself.
“One of the things we don’t do actually, when doing our projects, we don’t even use our own gravel when we’re doing it. We have a contractor come in, we let them supply their own gravel. That way, if something goes wrong, they can’t blame it on someone else. They have to take responsibility,” said Brewin.
“Two, we don’t like to compete with our own ratepayers, because the ratepayers have gravel pits and we don’t think it’s fair to be competing with our own ratepayers when it comes to selling gravel.”
Bruce Nakamura, who had previously led a delegation of farmers to discuss the matter with town councillors, asked council why the town was so insistent that the M.D.’s refusal to provide gravel was the project’s downfall. Brewin replied that the M.D. had asked for an official request so everyone knew what was going on in light of the talks.
“Obviously, councillors can’t make agreements between themselves, it has to be a council decision,” said Brewin.
“We had the joint council meeting after that, saying we don’t supply gravel.”
The Town of Taber has blamed the minor road status of 50th street on the M.D.’s lack of co-operation, saying if they had helped with a gravel purchase of $100,000, the costs would have been cheaper and they could have built the road to industrial standards.
But according to the M.D. council, they had received the official request letter, dated March 18, during their March 24 council meeting. The Town of Taber council had already voted on putting in a minor road standard during their March 23 meeting.
“The two farmer’s that were there (at the Town council meeting), said well if that were the big issue, we would have all chipped in and paid for the gravel ourselves,” said Bruce. “Or donated it toward the town in order to use that road… We would have easily raised that.”
Jack Dunsmore, director of planning and infrastructure for the M.D, noted that while the M.D. places bans most of their roads in the spring for safety, they are in the midst of doing a three-year engineering study on their paved, soil and cement roads to see if they can lift the springtime bans.
“Right wow, (the ban) it’s just a safety feature to protect our roads,” said Dunsmore. “If they can hold to a non-ban structure, then we would probably recommend to council that we don’t ban them. If they look like they need to be banned, then we would ban them in the spring season.”
The springtime ban – which usually occurs during mid-March to mid-May – is standard to industrial standard roads, something Bruce says the farmers have “no problem” abiding to. Dunsmore also pointed out that the M.D. has a lot of roads that aren’t built up to the industrial standard, but even then there is only a springtime ban.
There is a grace period for enforcing the ban on the road for empty trucks, but it expires at the end of the year.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen after Dec. 31,” said Bruce. “At the end of the day, it’s their road. They can do what they want with it. It’s in their jurisdiction. They have the authority to ban or not ban whatever they want,” said Brewin. “The science as near as I can see, from the studies and such, is that it’s a road that we wouldn’t do, if it was within our municipality.”
Bruce told the M.D. council that the town wants the M.D to pitch in and help upgrade the road to a heavy standard. The cost to add the three to six inches of asphalt to do so would run at a cost of about $400,000. He said the town had told him in the previous meeting, that if the M.D had “done something about the gravel originally” it would have been at least half to a quarter of the cost to upgrade it after the fact.
The portion of 50th Street that is under dispute lies on town property. The M.D. says they have done their part in producing roads to get people into towns, and should not have to be responsible for town roads as well.
“The M.D.’s always looked at directing traffic on good roads towards urban centres,” said Dunsmore. “Everyone of those centres have black-top roads, coming into the centre and leaving. So, if you pay attention around the Town of Taber, every road that the M.D. has leading into the town is black; it’s either oiled, soil cement or paved. So I’m sorry, I think we’ve done our share in trying to attract traffic towards the urban centres. They (the town) have never helped us pay for any of those.”
The M.D. council is willing to meet with Taber Town council to discuss the road issue, with a tentative plan for a New Year meeting. But they do not plan on contributing to the project.
“We can point fingers and name-call, but at the end of the day… It is the town decision, all we can do is give an example of how we would of built our roads, or a similar road we would have built,” said Brewin. “It’s something we need to deal with, there’s no use in thinking it’s going to go away, because it isn’t.”