By Trevor Busch
Mounting pressure from town council to immediately alleviate drainage problems in the industrial area has encountered some procedural roadblocks that mandate a delay for completion of a stormwater master plan.
At their Sept. 8 meeting, town council had directed administration to engage with stakeholders and return to the Sept. 22 meeting with a series of immediate drainage solutions for problem locations in the industrial area.
After preliminary investigation and further consideration of the issue, administration returned to the Sept. 22 meeting to advise that any efforts be postponed until after the completion of a stormwater master plan.
Associated Engineering is currently developing a Town of Taber Stormwater Master Plan, which will provide the town with recommendations for improvement to mitigate stormwater damage to existing development as well as identify an overall plan to guide further development in a way that will work with the natural features of the land.
The plan is expected to determine the standards to be used, including variables such as maximum depth of flow on roads, and minimum capacity of pipes and ditches.
“We’ve been working with Associated Engineering, but in the meantime, we’ve actually done our own survey,” said public works director Gary Scherer. “It’s not just a culvert issue, it’s a combination of things — maintenance, culvert size, slopage of the drains. We’re asking that council wait for the big picture from Associated Engineering, and we’ll continue working with them.”
The recommendation from administration called for use of the stormwater master plan currently under development to generate recommendations for upgrading the town’s stormwater system, particularly in the industrial area, and present these recommendations to council in a timely manner so that they might be considered for inclusion in the 2015 annual budget.
As justification for this recommendation, administration asserted that immediate action that has been advocated by some members of council, such as replacing culverts by field trial and error, could lead to costly repercussions for the town.
The storm water master plan currently being prepared would identify what culverts to be replaced at what size, based on engineering design rather than field observation.
Administration also warned that culverts ordered replaced immediately could be recommended to be replaced again in future by the stormwater master plan.
Coun. Joe Strojwas found administration’s recommendations entirely unsatisfactory, continuing to push for immediate action without the benefit of a stormwater master plan.
“Unfortunately, that’s not what I want to hear. And it’s not what the business community in the industrial section wants to hear either. I would still like to see the town proceed ahead. Volker Stevin will provide a 30 inch steel pipe to go underneath the highway (Highway 36) to help alleviate the problem with water backing up. I have a problem with an issue that has been around since 2006 and nothing has really been accomplished about it, except sit on our hands and wait for another consultant’s report. I cannot condone that, and I will not, and I will march to this beat as long as I can, and as hard as I can.”
Immediate action — at least involving drainage improvements under Highway 36 — will be required to wait for completion of a municipal stormwater master plan under Alberta Transportation regulations, according to Scherer.
“We had a meeting with Alberta Transportation this morning (Sept. 22), and they did instruct us that they would require a stormwater management master plan before any culverts would be installed. That’s a requirement of Alberta Transportation.”
Coun. Strojwas’ previous hard line softened slightly upon receipt of this information.
“I realize all this has to be done. When did Associated Engineering say they were going to have this report? Because when you do this kind of work, it has to be done in the fall, it has to be done in the next couple of months. You cannot wait until the spring to get this done, because then you’re another year behind the ball.”
Administration has contacted the Taber Irrigation District (TID) and has requested information that would assist in the sizing and placement of culverts, such as flow rates and volumes. The TID has granted the town access to their lands for the purpose of data collection such as surveying or flow monitoring. Associated Engineering will also engage with the TID and other stakeholders, including Volker Stevin and the M.D. of Taber, which is conducting their own stormwater management plan, as well as administering the Southern Regional Stormwater Management Plan.
“We would want to bring this forward as quickly as possible,” said Scherer. “We’re meeting with them (Associated Engineering) on Wednesday (Sept. 24), and we’ll discuss all of these issues, and we’ll try to move it forward as quickly as possible.”
Scherer went on to state that the stormwater master plan was expected for completion by the end of September.
CAO Greg Birch confirmed that no comprehensive municipal stormwater master plan has been completed in the past, a situation he found surprising.
“I didn’t find anything that was related to a comprehensive stormwater management plan for the whole community, which is surprising, because we’ve run two big storm sewer lines north and west, but there’s nothing about a grand scheme. The purpose of the study that Associated Engineering is undertaking right now is to get the grand scheme. They’re supposed to be completing that very shortly, with the idea that we would then apply that to projects that we could undertake and add to the budget in the next few months, so we could have them constructed next year. That doesn’t help you with getting it done this year. I hear your angst, but we’re just recommending that we wait a few months.”
The town has an annual maintenance program for the open storm water system (ditches, culverts and stormwater management ponds) which is currently overseen and managed by EPCOR, and involves hiring contractors to dig out ditches and replacing damaged culverts. Due to budget constraints and a lack of resources, not all ditches and culverts are maintained on an annual basis and only those of “high concern” receive maintenance.
“I have seen an event or two where all of a sudden we get a big meltdown, where we don’t have to wait until next June, I’ve seen the ditches full,” said Mayor Henk De Vlieger. “After a big snowfall, and all of a sudden a Chinook comes in. It’s the same problem, this could happen in November-December-January, too. To me, it’s urgent, especially if there’s some items that might be done as a Band-Aid. We know the problem areas, and a lot of it is lack of maintenance.”
In 2013, EPCOR, the Town of Taber and Horizon School Division staff worked together to replace the culvert crossing 56th at the intersection of 64th Avenue across from the school division’s office, which was partially funded by the annual stormwater maintenance program.
“For what it’s worth, I believe if I caught the names of those reports, those are works the Town of Taber has completed several years ago in the stormwater conveyance system on the east side of Highway 36 north,” said community services director Rob Cressman, elaborating on several previous engineering reports mentioned by Coun. Randy Sparks. “After development was completed there, we had many issues and problems with property damage in the industrial area with backing up during some of the big rain events. Work was completed several years ago at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars to the town. There’s been several millions of dollars invested by the town in the north Taber storm system, and the northwest Taber storm system, two trunk lines that been constructed since that 2006 report.”
According to administration, during heavy precipitation events such as occurred in early September, both EPCOR and town staff monitor flows, clear debris and if necessary open sewer manholes to help drain storm water. At this time, town staff and EPCOR identify and record problem areas for future improvement.
“I can understand everyone’s frustration with stormwater and things like that, but the thing about it is, it drives me crazy when you have to wait for these studies (stormwater master plan) when there’s things that need to be done that could be done,” said Coun. Sparks. “If Volker Stevin says we have to have a stormwater master plan before we put a culvert under the road, I guess the town is kind of stuck. I can understand everyone’s frustration on this, but this is an issue that we need to deal with as soon as we can, and make sure that all of the players are on board here.”
Maintenance of ditches and culverts historically has been performed in the fall (late September and early October), as this is typically the driest time of the year, and is also at the end of the growing season which limits any resurgent growth of vegetation before the next rainy season. Early September’s unseasonably heavy precipitation event occurred prior to EPCOR performing annual ditch maintenance, which could have helped contributed to high flows witnessed in certain areas.
“It’s an issue we’ve been made aware of a long time ago,” said Mayor De Vlieger. “I read the background here, and it almost seems to amount to excuses why it’s not been done. I don’t think this is an issue that we can keep excusing ourselves why it’s not been done. If there’s some interim things that can be done — and I don’t think they have to cost that much — then I would say at least then we’ve shown we’ve done our best, because if we get flooding this winter, we will never hear the end of it, I think. I understand there has to be a master plan, and I hope it will be the last master plan we have to make for a long time.”
Council voted unanimously to table any further action on the issue for two weeks until more information can be acquired and reviewed, including the potential completion of Associated Engineering’s stormwater master plan for the community.
Coun.(s) Andrew Prokop and Laura Ross-Giroux were absent from the meeting.