Resident Update March 21: Flooding
By Councillor Jerry Arshinoff
Rocky View County, Div. 2 Springbank
There are numerous people experiencing flooding problems. The weather forecast for tomorrow is 12 degrees Celsius, so it’s likely to get worse.
|What matters in Rocky View County and Region||Sunday, 26 March 2017 - 10:17|
By Councillor Jerry Arshinoff
Rocky View County, Div. 2 Springbank
There are numerous people experiencing flooding problems. The weather forecast for tomorrow is 12 degrees Celsius, so it’s likely to get worse.
(Editor’s note) Rocky View Forward is a grassroots group working to maintain Rocky View County’s unique character through awareness and participation, while ensuring the residents remain the first priority of the local government.
By Rocky View Forward
On February 28, Rocky View County debated a motion brought forward by Councillor Arshinoff to clarify how the County deals with journalists.
The motion had two parts. The first was to explicitly state the County’s commitment to anti-discriminatory practices as part of its media policy. The second was to clarify the policy’s wording to make it clear that all media enquiries would be responded to without preference between media delivery formats (e.g. print, television, radio, internet sources be given equal treatment).
The proposed changes to the County’s media policy should have been approved as a “no-brainer”. Unfortunately, County staff and the majority on Council saw things differently.
It is the media’s responsibility to question political decisions – Rocky View Forward
There are not many media outlets that cover local news. In addition to Rocky View Weekly, there are a few papers in the surrounding area that weigh in from time to time. There is one on-line news source, County News Online. In spite of this, County staff emphasized how difficult it was for them to deal with the workload caused by excessive media requests. With six people in the Communications Department and a budget of $850,000 this claim is incomprehensible.
The driving force behind staff’s opposition to the motion and Council’s backing of that opposition is the fact that County News Online frequently deviates from the County’s preferred messaging on issues. County News Online practices advocacy journalism – reporting Rocky View news from the residents’ perspective. For the majority on Council, this raises awkward and embarrassing facts on a regular basis. Their solution – refuse to respond to requests that County News Online has a perfect right to make as a media outlet covering Rocky View issues.
The majority on Council had no problem supporting staff’s practice of refusing to respond to County News Online requests for information. Both staff and members of Council made it clear that if a journalist’s past reporting had, in their opinion, been biased or unfavourable to them, there was no need to provide that individual with any further information.
Access to information should not be dependent on whether the County agrees with the recipient’s viewpoint. It is the media’s responsibility to question political decisions if and when it sees fit. It is disturbing that the majority on Council seems determined to undermine the core principles of democracy – freedom of the press and the importance of acknowledging and accepting differing opinions. Instead, they want one group controlling the narrative – Rocky View Council.
A Public Hearing on this application will be held on Tuesday, March 14, scheduled to start shortly after 10 a.m .
Anyone wishing to speak will be given five minutes or 10 minutes if the speaker represents more than one person.
Please see C-2 (page 29) and C-3 (page 116) of the March 14 council meeting agenda.
On Feb 28, Rocky View Council and Administration decided to not answer questions from the County News Online, one of only two media outlets focusing on Rocky View County news.
The Rocky View’s Communications Department has stated it is too busy to answer an average of one question per month to the County News.
It stated its current budget of $850,000 per year would need to be increased if Council were to rule in favour of providing answers to the County News.
The Communications Department’s budget costs taxpayers approximately $16,346 per week or over $400 per hour.
This seems a rather exorbitant expense for a Communications Dept. with a staff of five that claims it cannot answer one extra question per month that would take about 20 minutes on average.
To support its position, the Communications Dept. took one to two weeks to research, write out and present a five-page report explaining why County News questions could not be answered .
With its Feb. 28 decision, the Council of Rocky View County has set a dangerous precedent. It has endorsed discrimination towards a media outlet, ruling that the County—and the County alone—will be deciding on whether a media outlet is legitimate or illegitimate.
The Canadian Association of Journalists, which has standards of admission, has granted membership to the editor of the County News.
I suggest reading the following sources:
From the County News:
From the Rocky View Weekly:
March 7 edition – Page 1 and Letters to the Editor, Pages 7 and 8.
“Whenever the provincial government plans to undertake a major project near a First Nation, there is a legal obligation to assess the potential impacts on First Nation lands,” said Tsuut’ina chief Lee Crowchild in a news release reported by CBC news.
“Our position is that Tsuut’ina must give consent for this project to proceed. Tsuut’ina does not give that consent.”
Ermineskin Cree Nation to Support Tsuut’ina Opposition to Proposed Springbank Dam – March 8 News Release
The following statement regarding opposition to a proposed dam at Springbank Alberta should be attributed in whole or part to Carol Wildcat, Director of Ermineskin Industrial Relations:
“Ermineskin has been carefully watching the Springbank dam situation and is disappointed that the NDP government seems to be recklessly disregarding its own commitments to respect and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” reads the release.
“The proposed project will have direct impacts on Tsuut’ina Nation lands. We call on all First Nations in Alberta to support the Tsuut’ina Nation as it opposes a project for which consent is required, but has not been requested.”
In spite of claims of openness and transparency, the council of Rocky View County has voted overwhelmingly to assess “each media request” before deciding whether to answer questions from reporters.
The Feb. 28 decision makes official a procedure decided by staff about eight months ago to decline answering questions from the County News (TCN).
An initiative to end discrimination had been presented by Coun. Jerry Arshinoff, after TCN submitted a complaint to all members of council.
The decision, which violates the County’s Media Policy 192, will only marginally effect TCN, which submitted about six (unanswered) questions in the second half of 2016, or about one question per month.
TCN, however, is just the proverbial canary in the mine in this case.
What is really concerning is that seven adults entrusted by voters to make decisions on behalf of the citizens were willing to listen without flinching a presentation that mixed real journalism principles with notions coming straight from la la land. It is true that Coun. Margaret Bahcheli did advance some objections–but ended up voting with the crowd.
One must wonder what sort of microclimate makes this close group listen without questioning the use of rhetorical pirouettes that would’ve made Nicolo Machiavelli pale with envy.
Communications manager Grant Kaiser picked up Reeve Boehlke’s recently used term “legitimate media” and lumped TCN together with “real estate agents, consultants, bloggers, students (and) community newsletters.”
Those hordes of false media, if we are to believe Kaiser, would have jumped at the opportunity to claim access had Rocky View media services decided to provide answers to TCN.
“We already have a lot of media requests,” Kaiser explained, adding that should Arshinoff’s motion be approved, the County’s five-person, $850,000 a year communications services would probably require a budget increase.
Most governments routinely fail to answer questions from the media and no newspaper, TV channel or “blog” can force any government to answer. When unable to obtain answers, a reporter will just add a line at the end of the story stating that fact, just to prove it had exercised due diligence and that’s the end of it. Therefore, arguing that answering TCN would open the floodgates to crowds of bloggers asking to be answered by none other than Rocky View County is disingenuous at the very least.
Here, recommended for reading, is the staff report to council recommending to keep assessing and selecting media before responding to questions. Click here: RockyViewReport
However, the proverbial cherry was yet to come. Listening to his own discourse, Kaiser become carried away, venturing into murky waters, as heard between 13:48 and 14:01 in the county’s official audio recording of the meeting.
“There is a website out there that says farmers should get 10 votes and urban residents should get none,” said Kaiser. “There is the opposite, that urban residents should get 10 votes (and) farmers should get none.”
Allow TCN to abstain from further comment.
A council’s decision to endorse Rocky View administration’s discrimination against this online newspaper is a clear example of the besieged mentality prevailing at 911, 32 Ave. N.E. Calgary.
Only two media outlets focus on Rocky View—the well-established, hard-copy, mailbox-distributed Rocky View Weekly (RVW) and this modest online-only newspaper, defined by some as a “blog.”
Whatever its definition, the County News (TCN) is nothing more—but nothing less—than an advertising-free electronic media outlet, singlehandedly run on a part-time, voluntary basis by the above-signing reporter.
It goes without saying that media plurality in a community is a bonus. Different reporters may write about a given issue from different angles, allowing readers to compare, cross-check and ultimately become better informed.
Coun. Jerry Arshinoff attempted to get support for an enhancement of the County’s media policy to make sure Rocky View does not dismiss media outlets, large or small.
His motion was soundly defeated in a 7-1 vote, but had the merit of bringing the County’s position towards the media into the public record for the first time.
“If you don’t have (media) standards, it can be a divisive and harmful element of democracy.” Communications manager Grant Kaiser
The fact that the County’s communications manager spent time and energy to fill a five-page report detailing reasons against Arshinoff’s motion is almost flattering to TCN.
Does the decision impact TCN? Yes, because County admininstration’s voice is going to be absent. Is it going to shut TCN down? Not at all. The County cannot cancel other sources such as public council meetings because they are provincially legislated. Reeve Boehlke and most members of council have also stopped talking to TCN long time ago.
This is not the first time the County shows hostility. In 2013, administration did not allow hard-copy TCN to be available in the municipal office building, refusing a newspaper distribution box outside as well.
Back in 2010, Rocky View made headlines across the country by serving cease-and-desist letters against two local websites critical of the County. The reeve then was Lois Habberfield–the same who is now proud of the County’s award-winning communications department.
Grant Kaiser was creative enough to use the current political turmoil in the U.S. and the “concept of fake news, media bias and sensationalism” into discussion.
He brought a curious parallel between a major U.S. medium and outlets of the size of the County News to emphasize the need to apply “standards” to determine who is media or journalist.
“Ultimately, if you don’t have standards, it can be a divisive and harmful element of democracy,” Kaiser said. “That includes everybody from Fox News, which might be considered mainstream media, down to a little local blog, to a little website posting.”
What’s the ultimate effect of the County’s Feb. 28 decision?
It means the County is excluding a voice—a tiny voice perhaps, but still a voice—attempting to provide relevant information on the way Rocky View makes decisions, sets priorities and spends local and provincial taxpayers’ money.
As for TCN, the official stonewalling decision just reinforces its determination to offer more information, more voices and more transparency.
The council of Rocky View County has quashed an attempt to end administration’s discrimination against the County News.
During a Feb. 28 council meeting, a motion of Coun. Jerry Arshinoff to reinforce media openness was overwhelmingly rejected, on a 7-1 vote in absence of Reeve Greg Boehlke.
“There only are two media outlets that specifically…cover Rocky View,” said Coun. Jerry Arshinoff. “The Rocky View Weekly and the County News.”
“The County News…can’t get any answers.”
In a recent message, the County News advised all members of council that the County media services hasn’t answered a single question, asked in writing, in the last six months.
In recent statements published by the Rocky View Weekly, Reeve Greg Boehlke justified a recent refusal to take questions from the County News by accusing its publisher of “’maneuvering’ statements to ‘find something wrong with (them).’”
In 2011, Rocky View enacted a Media Policy that calls for fair treatment of the media.
“The County shall endeavour to respond to all media inquiries and requests in a prompt, courteous and open manner,” reads Policy 192. “And is committed to providing media with statements and information that are accurate, factual, clear, concise, consistent, and timely.”
Nonetheless, County spokesperson Grant Kaiser explained council that administration has created a set of criteria to limit the number of publications receiving answers from the County.
“Before determining that unrestricted service should be provided to the media, it is important to understand the consequences of such a decision,” Kaiser wrote in a report to council. “Under unrestricted service, The County News is not the only entity that could demand an additional level of service.”
From July 21 to Dec. 21, 2016, five emails sent by the County News with questions to Rocky View media services that went unanswered.
Kaiser said the County’s communications department regularly receives requests from real estate agents, consultants, bloggers, students, and many other people.
The report also noted conditions the communications services use to decide whether to answer questions from media outlets, such as the number of County residents the publication reaches—must be at least 1,000 adults—and whether the publication addresses a future or current approach.
“Media is about current and future, because unless you have a time machine you can’t deal with the past,” said Kaiser.
In addition, Kaiser said, the County media services ask themselves questions such as, “are we doing something that’s worth the effort in terms of spreading our word?” or “Do they primarily publish articles—impartial articles?”
Kaiser also hinted that, should more media be granted the right to receive answers as a result of approving Arshinoff’s motion, the workload of Rocky View media services could increase which could create a need for more resources.
According to Rocky View’s 2017 operating budget, County communications services has five staff members and an $850,000 expense.
“We would spend in my time here up to three weeks solid working on nothing but media relations and sometimes we’ll go three weeks without a single media request,” Kaiser said.
Arshinoff noted that, besides the Rocky View Weekly and the County News, there are few stories about Rocky View in other media.
“When I look at CBC news, CTV news, the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Sun, there are extremely few stories on Rocky View,” he said.
Kaiser said in addition to interest generated by a recent “tiny house” issue in the last year, “there is Harmony Beef, there is Chestermere annexation, things like that.”
“I am not trying to say that media relations are all my department does—it’s not,” Kaiser added. “But it’s a very disruptive part of what we do because it comes out of nowhere, because it takes a tremendous amount of time…we just need to be make sure it’s worth the effort we are investing.”
Coun. Liz Breakey agreed with Kaiser’s recommendation not to change current policy.
“There are various blogs and I am sure we are all being attacked,” said Breakey. “I would not like in the future for any council and the administration to have to deal with…blog…even a newspaper that doesn’t exercise some standards,” she said.
Coun. Lois Habberfield praised the County media services and their approach.
“We are lucky to have an award-winning communications department that is elevating the messages we get out,” she said. “Not only to media but to our own residents through various brochures, publications etc.”
Coun. Margaret Bahcheli was the last of four councillors to speak before the vote.
“Good for you and yeah, I will not be supporting the motion,” she told Kaiser. “You do have the right and the responsibility to control your own (media) priority list.”
The decision places council as a whole on the same page as administration, in line with a recent refusal of Reeve Greg Boehlke to take questions from the County News at a recent Weedon Pioneer Community Hall open house.
An audio recording of the Feb. 28 discussion runs from minute 3:43 to minute 43:44.
By Enrique Massot
The County News Online
A Rocky View County politician is concerned by a provincial decision to legislate Rocky View County back to regional planning.
“This is not about good planning,” said Reeve Greg Boehlke at a recent community meeting. “It’s about stopping growth in rural areas.”
The Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), formed by 14 urban municipalities, attempted to create regional planning on a voluntary basis, but Rocky View was having none of that.
The County was the first municipality to withdraw from the CRP in 2009, followed by the other rural jurisdictions.
However, emphasizing the need to include the rural municipalities, the NDP government decided to legislate mandatory membership and the creation of a Growth Management Board (GMB) to implement a regional growth plan.
“We believe the board needs to have a clear mandate to ensure effective and efficient regional planning and co-ordinated decision making,” Shannon Greer, press secretary of Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, told the County News.
Rocky View has argued, in a 20-page paper submitted to the provincial government, that a “need for a GMB has not been demonstrated and a GMB is not necessary.”
Greer, instead, said regional planning will allow to co-ordinate efforts among municipalities for more efficiency.
“Instead of duplicating costly services, municipalities will work together to deliver more efficient services to their communities,” she said.
The 1995 demise of decades-old regional planning in Alberta and the granting of full subdivision powers to rural municipalities unleashed competition for urban development between land-rich counties, municipal districts and adjacent urban centres.
Rocky View’s projects to urbanize vast swaths of countryside at the doors of urban centres conflicted with urban neighbours such as Chestermere and Calgary.
Rocky View also borrowed funds to build its own urban water and sewage infrastructure to facilitate commercial and residential development— creating a stubborn debt in the process.
Boehlke, who spoke at a January community meeting hosted by Div. 8 Coun. Eric Lowther, believes the issue is paramount.
“This board is going to make land-use and planning decisions,” he said. “Our councils will become redundant.”.
Boehlke said Rocky View has already a growth plan, and cited the Glenbow Ranch Area Structure Plan currently on the works and slated to allow development for 14,000 residents on land currently rural.
If planning is left to the City of Calgary, Boehlke added, “it will be 75,000 people.”
Greer said the Calgary Region will create a regional growth plan similar to that created in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, created in 2008.
“The board would be required to develop a regional growth plan just like the Capital Region Board has in the Edmonton area,” she said.
The regional organization, made up of 24 urban and rural municipalities, has recently produced an update to its 2010 Growth Plan.
The new plan sets the foundation for regional growth over the next 30 years in the Edmonton Metro Region, and establishes regional energy, transportation and servicing corridors.
“In the rural area…employment and population growth will be accommodated in towns, villages and hamlets in a compact form, rather than dispersed across the rural countryside,” the plan reads.
Such approach has reduced by 250 quarter sections the amount of land planned to be developed in the future.
“This will reduce the need to extend infrastructure and convert valuable prime agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses,” states the plan.
Brent Swallow, a University of Alberta profesor, will speak about farmland conversion and fragmentation in Alberta on March 3 at the Cochrane RancheHouse.
Swallow’s presentation will take place at an event organized by Action for Agriculture, March 3 at the Cochrane RancheHouse from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The event, the first to be held after the death of past Action for Agriculture’s founder Harvey Buckley, will include the organization’s 27th Annual General Meeting and a Land Use forum with open discussion.
As part of a project undertaken by the Alberta Land Institute, Swallow works on assessing the effects of current policies on the levels and rates of fragmentation.
The project team is conducting four related studies that focus either on the province as a whole, or on two areas within the province: the Capital Region around Edmonton, and the Highway 2 corridor linking Edmonton and Calgary.
The event will also feature Marian Weber of Alberta Innovates speaking about the measurement and valuation of the natural capital.
Rancher and researcher Olivier LaRocque will present on pros and cons of current practices monitoring the ecology of public lands and private conservation easements.
To read Action for Agriculture’s latest newsletter, click on Action for Agriculture Newsletter Feb. 2017
By Enrique Massot
The County News
Some properties in Bearspaw could lose significant value if a Rocky View draft gravel policy is approved as proposed, a real estate agent says.
“The approach to this process has been underhanded,” said Keith Braun, president of RealPros Real Estate Consultants. “Stakeholders are flying under the radar.”
Rocky View County should consider the adverse effects a gravel pit may have on existing residents and properties instead of catering to the needs of the industry, he added.
“Companies want extraction close to where demand is,” said Braun, a Bearspaw resident who has sold real estate in Calgary and Rocky View for 20 years.
Rocky View’s work towards preparing its first ever Aggregate Resource Plan (ARP) got to a rocky start in the summer of 2016, after residents discovered that the consultant the County had chosen to conduct the process had ties with the gravel industry. Most residents who submitted feedback after several open houses stated that people and gravel don’t mix.
Golder Associates is listed as a consultant member of the Alberta Sand and Gravel Association, and also participated of its 2004 AGM and tradeshow.
“Connect with Golder’s team at our exhibit booth to discuss how our experience within the aggregate industry can help you develop solutions for your projects,” read the invitation posted in Golder’s website.
On July 22, 2016, County staff met with 26 aggregate industry representatives at Golder offices to gather input for the ARP, according to posted County documents.
At that meeting closed to the general public, industry members requested that no setback distances between gravel operations and land uses such as residential be included in the policy.
Eventually, the County disengaged Golder, and Rocky View staff handled the project after that.
In January, a draft ARP was made public and quickly became subject of controversy, particularly around its proposed setbacks, vague wording about monitoring and enforcement, and a proposal to freeze residential development in areas where gravel deposits exist.
Braun said the draft ARP shows bias.
“The primary drive is pure economics,” he said.
Braun became concerned by setback distances proposed in Rocky View’s draft gravel policy—500 metres for equipment and 100 metres for operation boundaries—and decided to use previous research on the potential effects of gravel mining on nearby property values.
Using his real estate expertise, he reviewed two market studies on the effects of gravel operations on property values, and sent his findings to Rocky View as part of a public input process that ended Feb. 24
“Studies from different angles have valued impacts as little as nine per cent and as high as 39 per cent,” said Braun.
One Ontario study took into account 19 properties, while another evaluated 2,500 properties in Delaware County, Ohio.
Braun said the results of those studies are transferable to any country and show what may happen in Bearspaw if Rocky View’s proposed Aggregate Resource Plan (ARP) is approved as drafted.
One of such studies found out that 19 Ontario properties with a median sale price of $1.18 million lost value to the tune of 22 per cent—a median loss of $260,000 for each home.
“The percent price diminution considers the distance of a property to the pit or quarry or haul route,” said Braun.
A second study took a broader approach, evaluating 2,500 homes.
“Professor (Diane) Hite examined the effects of distance from a gravel mine in Delaware County, Ohio on the sale price of more than 2,500 residential properties in the late 1990s,” said Braun.
The study concluded that properties within a third of a mile (536 metres) from a gravel operation dropped in value by 25 percent or more.
Declines were reduced as distance increased, to a value reduction of five to seven per cent for properties located 2.5 to 3.1 miles away from an operation (four to five km).
Braun applied the two studies’ findings to the Bearspaw neighbourhood where he resides, near where a proposed Lehigh Hanson & Heildelberg gravel operation could get green light if the draft ARP were approved with the proposed setback distances.
The Gray Way community, located 1.5 miles from the potential site, would loss 10 per cent in value, or $125,000 on houses valued $1.25 million in average.
“Thirty-one homes in the Gray Way neighbourhood would lose almost $4 million in property values if a proposed gravel extraction operation is allowed,” Braun said. “This, in combination with the many other negative impacts.”
Braun said in its Guide to Aggregate Extraction Part 1, Rocky View reported collecting $10 million since 2006, or one million dollars per year.
“Most people would go ‘wow!’” he said. However, he added, the sum represents $1 million per year, which could not make up for the loss in property tax revenue for the municipality.
Also, he said, “this doesn’t come close to the negative impact that the aggregate operations have on the County’s roads.”
“Clearly the current policies in place plus those being proposed are beneficial only to the industry stakeholders (but) not to the residents of Rocky View.”
To read Braun’s complete submission to Rocky View, click Bearspaw Gravel Quarries – Letter to MD
By Enrique Massot
The County News
As solar power generation becomes increasingly affordable, residents, farmers and business owners are turning to this renewable, non-polluting source, attendants at a recent workshop heard.
“Anywhere in Southern Alberta is good for solar,” said presenter David Kelly, of Sky Fire Energy.
Co-sponsored by Rocky View and Wheatland County, the Feb. 15 solar workshop attracted over 100 residents who crowded the Delacour Community Hall.
Greg Alexander and Carole Leroux, who run a custom made western hat business in southeast Rocky View, are now considering powering their home and small business with the sun’s energy.
“We will get an assessment done,” said Alexander, who estimates at six or seven kilowatts the amount of electricity needed to power the residence and the shop. “We came with some questions and found even more questions.”
Kelly said an assessment includes measuring roof or ground space available for panels, orientation, analyses shading and establishes potential locations for components such as inverters and main panel.
Leroux, who together with Alexander runs Hat Doctor, said while initial costs need to be considered, money is not the only consideration when it comes to reducing consumption of carbon-emitter fossil fuels.
“Would be nice to be greener,” she said.
Vince Young, who resides near Langdon, said “the jury is still out” in regards to the initial investment on solar-generation equipment.
Kelly said photovoltaic panels have become durable, with a life expectancy of at least 25 years—and prices have been continuously dropping.
A typical solar-generation unit consists of solar panels, generally installed on a roof, that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) power. Inverters convert DC to alternative current (AC) that can be used sur place or fed into the electrical distribution system.
Utility companies now supply bidirectional meters that measure kilowatts consumed from the grid as well as kilowatts fed to the grid, and kilowatts exported in that way are credited to the consumer at the same rate charged by the power companies.
Reverse meters eliminate the need for large capacity batteries, because the grid acts as a giant power storage device.
Government initiatives such as Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial program for farmers, cost-shares the price of solar systems.
Kelly gave a broad picture of the current state of solar-generation technologies, and said the 60 to 70-year proven technology has become “a great investment opportunity.”
He cited a 2 megawatt photovoltaic installation at Green Acres Colony in Bassano, a 175-kilowatt grid-tied installation in a poultry farm in Linden, and a 12.26 kilowatt grid-tied photovoltaic installation at a farm in Mountain View County among others.
Calgary has become one of the best jurisdictions for those wanting to install solar photovoltaic panels, said Kelly. Rocky View, he added, “is a bit more work but it’s not too bad. It requires building and electrical permits.”
Small residential projects take about five days to install, Kelly said.
Photovoltaic panels are estimated to degrade by one per cent per year, and produce at least 80 per cent of the initial generation after 20 years.
Marvin Jackson of Sundog Solar in Sundre installs a variety of sun-powered farm equipment.
Brad Sargeant with Off Grid Heating in Calgary has a wealth of information on government programs and inverters in its website.