By Trevor Busch
For the immediate future, weight restrictions on heavy vehicles will be enforced for 50th Street, north of 64th Avenue, following a decision at town council’s Feb. 8 regular meeting.
Following the closed session (in camera) portion of the meeting, council voted to affirm its decision of Sept. 28, 2015, regarding enforcement of the restriction of truck traffic on 50th Street between 64th Avenue and 80th Avenue (Resolution No. 437/2015) and requests the Taber Police Service enforce that restriction after insuring that proper signage and any other necessary notifications are in place to clearly demonstrate that the road is no longer on the list of Town of Taber truck routes pursuant to Bylaw No. 14-2015.
Although the motion was carried, according to the minutes of the Feb. 8 meeting, council’s vote was not unanimous. During the in camera portion of a public meeting, members of the general public, including the media, are barred from witnessing or participating in the the proceedings or discussion, although all subsequent resolutions must be made in open session.
At their March 23, 2015, 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. According to town administration at the time, allowing truck traffic would cause the roadway to degrade more quickly than if weights were restricted.
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 had a longer life span, adding an additional 10 years. A minor collector road standard is primarily used for light vehicles and not truck routes.
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.
In 2015, strong objections from the agricultural sector over the road ban, which restricts heavy traffic from using the roadway to access rural properties to the north, led to criticism of Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber councils over the M.D.’s level of participation in the project and the town’s controversial decision to institute a weight restriction.
Under guidelines laid down by Alberta Municipal Affairs, as an elected body municipal councils should avoid conducting business in-camera, including discussion of difficult topics such as budget deliberations, capital expenditures, tax recoveries, salary ranges or hiring of additional municipal staff, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals, and any contentious issues such as sensitive local issues.
Section 197 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states that councils and council committees must conduct their meetings in public unless the matter to be discussed is within one of the exceptions to disclosure in Division 2 of Part 1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act (Sec. 16-29). These limited exceptions for discussion include third party business interests (Sec. 16), third party personal privacy (Sec. 17), individual or public safety (Sec. 18-19), law enforcement (Sec. 20), intergovernmental relations (Sec. 21-24), and economic or other interests (Sec. 25-29).
The MGA sets out clear requirements for municipal councils to conduct their business openly, except in very limited and specific circumstances. According to Alberta Municipal Affairs, the “powers of a municipal council are balanced by councils’ accountability to the citizens who elect them.
It is therefore essential that citizens are allowed to take an active interest in the development and direction of our local governments and express views to their locally elected representatives”.
In a follow up motion on Feb. 8, council voted unanimously to propose a meeting with M.D. of Taber council to discuss the restriction of truck traffic on 50th Street between 64th Avenue and 80th Avenue.