Opinion: Hostility to voters’ list puzzling

By Janet Ballantyne
Rocky View Forward

As I have said elsewhere, the new Rocky View Council is providing a badly needed breath of fresh air for County residents. Its Feb. 13 decision to implement a voters’ list is one such example. 

Unfortunately, the County Administration’s handling of the issue and Rocky View Weekly’s coverage, both hark back to past high-handed practices that many of us had hoped were now history.

Administration’s and Rocky View Weekly’s reluctance to support a voters’ list is incomprehensible.  Reputable sources on democratic elections all emphasize the importance of ensuring that only eligible voters vote and that procedures are in place to make it difficult for individuals to vote more than once.  These sources, almost without exception, identify voters’ lists as the primary and easiest tool for achieving these objectives.

To fly in the face of all these experts begs the question of why Administration and the Rocky View Weekly newspaper are objecting.  What is in it for Rocky View Weekly to so strongly object to a voters’ list?

“A voters’ list would make cheating dramatically more difficult.” Janet Ballantyne – Rocky View Forward

The argument, trumpeted by Rocky View Weekly, that the initiative is too expensive is ludicrous.  The County’s cost estimate to implement a voters’ list is $130,000 (less than one-tenth of one percent of RVC’s annual operating budget).  That amount assumes the County has to do a door-to-door enumeration, an interpretation apparently shared by no one other than Ms. Angie Keibel, the RVC staff person responsible for advising Council on the issue.

Rocky View Weekly’s editorial repeatedly emphasized that Council should wait for the Province to make changes that might reduce the costs of a county-level voters’ list.  By taking this stance, Rocky View Weekly has seriously misled its readers – waiting is, within reason, exactly what Council has done.  Council decided to delay implementing its voters’ list until October 2019, based on Ms. Keibel’s advice that the provincial review of the relevant legislation should be completed by then.  Council, however, recognized that there is no guarantee that the Province will make the necessary changes, let alone do so with sufficient lead time for municipalities to have voters’ lists in place for the 2021 elections.  As a result, Council made it very clear that, if the Province has not acted within that timeframe, the County will move forward on its own to implement a voters’ list. Read more »

Forests and clearcut effects featured in Bragg Creek

 

On Feb. 23, the mini-documentary Forests, Fins and Footprints will feature the effects of clearcuts in the Alberta Eastern Slopes.

For years, Ghost Valley residents have been asking the provincial and municipal governments to put a stop to clearcut logging in the area.

However, timber harvesting has been happening in the last three years. Residents are concerned about the loss of the watershed value as part of the Bow River basin that supplies water to the City of Calgary and other southern Alberta communities.

Sharon MacDonald of the Ghost Valley Community says clearcuts are not limited to the Ghost area.

“Clearcut logging is headed your way once again,” she noted in a message.

Timber harvesting is slated to start December 2018 at Cobble Flats in the Mustang Hills, located south of the Elbow Falls between Highway 66 and the Upper Elbow River.

Increased runoff and gully erosion, erosion, sedimentation of streams, and changing water table depth are some of the negative impact of logging on watersheds, according to Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“Removing tree cover removes the environmental benefits associated with trees,” the department stated in its website.

The information session and documentary short screening will take place Feb. 23 at the Heart Cafe Shop and Yoga studio, 12, Balsam Ave.

Doors will be open at 6:30 p.m. The film will start at 7:00 p.m., and an information session will begin at 7:45 p.m.

 

Opinion: Been there, done that

By Jerry Arshinoff
Springbank

(Editor’s note) Jerry Arshinoff represented Div. 2 in the Rocky View County council from 2013 to 2017.

On Feb 27 Council will hear and presumably decide on the Cochrane North development.

Councillors must consider many factors but the first, by far, is to provide an outlet from Cochrane Lake.

A proper pipe going from the lake to the Bow River must be in place and ready to go before any more homes are built.

Presumably the developer has committed to the construction of such a pipe, i.e. after an undetermined number of homes are built. That’s good but not nearly good enough.

We have had close to record snow accumulation this month. Ordinarily we get the greatest amount of our annual snowfall in March and April. If we get a quick melt, especially if accompanied by significant rainfall, the current little pipe to Horse Creek will be unable to drain enough water and levels will go up, thereby again causing more flooding and huge misery to those who live along the lake.

There will be inevitable damage to the ecology and fish populations in Horse Creek – all happening even before any additional homes are constructed.

Cochrane North lands are on background past Monterra on Cochrane Lakes homes. Photo: County News archive.

The proposed development calls for (eventually) over 400 homes on 50+ foot lots. That’s a lot of paving and a lot of roofs generating a lot of additional runoff into a lake that has many residents living along its shore.

Build the pipe first, before any homes are added to the mix. The risk of doing otherwise is as obvious as it is unjustified and untenable.

If the development is to proceed it is Council’s responsibility – and only Council’s responsibility – to ensure it is done properly.  Sacrificing the safety and​ well-being of current residents to attract future residents is indefensible. Previous Rocky View Councils have “been there, done that” – and we have also seen the consequences.

 

Rocky View to consider Cochrane North residential project

Enrique Massot
The County News

A proposal to develop 425 residential units north of Cochrane Lake will be brought for council’s consideration on Feb. 27.

The Cochrane North Conceptual Scheme encompasses just over 300 acres, of which approximately 88 acres would be developed as residential.

The development, located three miles north of the Town of Cochrane on Highway 22, would house approximately 1,275 persons.

Approval of the project will require amendments to the Cochrane North Area Structure Plan to allow for higher residential density and a commercial component.

Horse Creek Water/Sewer Services currently servicing Monterra would provide potable water and sewage servicing to Cochrane North.

Stormwater management will be a key component of the proposed development, whose lands drain into Cochrane Lake, a landlocked water body.

When the existing Monterra on Cochrane Lakes development was built, runoff from paved roads, driveways and rooftops increased the lake levels, flooding shore properties both in Monterra and the Hamlet of Cochrane Lake.

After emergency pumping failed to return the lake levels to normal, Rocky View took steps to impose a special tax to area residents to finance a permanent solution. However, provincial government officials stepped in at the request of former councillor Jerry Arshinoff.

As a result, the province funded a pumping operation that removed the equivalent of 7,600 Olympic-sized swimming pools from the lake during the summer of 2014.

The province later provided a $2.3 million grant to Rocky View to install a pipe to drain lake water into nearby Horse Creek.

The developer of the proposed Cochrane North project says measures will be taken to prevent similar occurrences.

In an early February update to residents, Asad Niazi of Tulum Development said the pipe to Horse Creek will be replaced.

“A new permanent outfall to the Bow River will be constructed,” he wrote. “This solution will facilitate drainage…while preventing flooding as seen in the past.”

Niazi said the cost of installing the new pipe will be borne by new development.

“No municipal funds will be committed to this project,” he noted.

An option to discharge Cochrane Lake water to the Bow River was recommended in the original concept plan for Monterra prepared in 1995 – however, Rocky View later allowed the Monterra developer to rely on evaporation.

For more information on the current proposal visit CochraneNorth.com.

A County administration report to council on the Cochrane North proposal will be uploaded into Rocky View website late Wednesday Feb. 21.

Rocky View adopts voters list

County first Alberta municipality to implement it

By Enrique Massot
The County News

Voting in Rocky View County will be quicker and more reliable after a decision to create a register of electors in time for the next municipal election.

“Fraud can happen in any system,” said Coun. Samanntha Wright, who spearheaded the initiative. “I do believe a voters list is a big deterrent to the ‘vote early vote often’ (and) to voting five or six times in one election.”

Samanntha Wright

The 7-2 decision will have the County breaking new ground in Alberta, where municipalities are not mandated to keep an electors’ register and eligibility is attested by voters themselves by signing an affidavit known as Form 8.

“Currently, the (Local Authorities Election) Act requires someone to be allowed to vote if they fill the statutory declaration declaring eligibility,” said Angie Keibel, manager of Legislative and Legal Services

Coun. Mark Kamachi, who voted against the proposal, said the system is reliable as it stands.

“(Make) people know who are about to commit voter fraud during an election campaign that it’s 10 grand or…six months in jail,” he said. “That’s a pretty strong deterrent – at least that would be for me.”

While falsely signing a Form 8 carries such penalties, the forms are not inspected and are destroyed a few weeks after the election unless a review is ordered by a judge. Wright said losing a previous election and attempting to check the forms was an eye-opener.

“Having those Form 8s looked at is incredibly difficulty and incredibly costly,” said Wright. “I was going to have mines looked at and spoke to a lawyer, but it would cost me anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.”

“A voters list is a big deterrent to the ‘vote early – vote often.'” Coun. Samanntha Wright

Elections in Rocky View have been hotly contested since the early 2000s, as developers targeted Rocky View’s low-price farmland for residential and commercial development. In the 2013 election, developers contributed over $130,000 to eight candidates, five of whom had their campaigns entirely financed to the tune of $20,000 to $30,000.

A register of electors, Keibel told council, would be created in agreement with Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer allowing the County to obtain elector information from the province as well as by conducting a door-to-door enumeration, at a one-time cost of $130,000.

By Coun. Kevin Hanson’s suggestion, the County will begin working on the list in October 2019 – two years before the 2021 election – in case the provincial government makes changes to the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA) in the meantime.

“That gives us twenty-four months to get it up and running,” said Wright.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only two Canadian provinces where municipal voter registers are not mandatory. Voters lists, on the other hand, are used countrywide for provincial and federal elections and allow election workers to quickly determine eligibility and hand out ballots.

“We complained about voter turnout,” said Wright. “Here’s the opportunity to make it more streamlined.”

Deputy Reeve Jerry Gautreau said many Rocky View residents have documents with P.O. boxes instead of physical addresses, often with the name “Calgary” on it. Read more »

Rocky View to decide on register of electors

By Enrique Massot
The County News

The council of Rocky View County will be considering, at its Feb. 13 regular meeting, implementing a permanent register of electors to be used in the municipal election.

The item was incorporated to the agenda following a Coun. Samanntha Wright’s notice of motion presented on Jan. 23.

“Democratic principles and the rights of all residents are based on fair elections,” is one of the reasons Wright included in support of creating the register. “Rocky View County has not created any such proper list (which) can make it seem to be unfair.”

A voters list, noted County administrators in a report to council, would streamline the voting process because election workers will be able to retrieve voters in the list.

“If a person’s name is on a voters list, election officials can quickly administer a ballot,” the report noted.

If a voter’s name is not on the list, the elector can still vote by providing valid identification.

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy is strongly advocating for the adoption of voters lists as a way to ensure fair and transparent elections.

“The Local Authorities Election Act prescribes two acceptable methods for confirming voter eligibility,” the Frontier Centre wrote in a Feb. 12 release. “An eligible voter is one that is on an established list of electors.”

When a voters list is not available, the Frontier Centre added, “any person may show up at the polling station and make a sworn statement that they are eligible to vote, providing some proof of identity and current residence.”

“The self-declared voters at the polls does not promote honest, transparent government and fair election processes (but) by adopting an established voters list, local governments can ensure that municipal voting is fair and transparent.”

However, County administration recommended council to not adopt a voters list at this time.

“The costs to create and maintain a voters list would be significant,” staff wrote.

Creating a register would require a door-to-door enumeration costing $130,000, or about $3.25 per County resident. This expense, however, would have to be done only once.

“After the initial database is created, it would just need to be updated,” staff wrote.

However, administrators warned council of risks involved with conducting a door-to-door enumeration.

“…enumerators may encounter challenges, such as catching voters when they are at home, accessing multi-family dwellings, and getting electors to answer the required questions,” administrators wrote.

In addition, County administrators wrote,  “face-to-face enumeration also poses safety risks for enumerators who may need to venture into unknown neighbourhoods in unpredictable weather conditions.”

Other drawbacks for administration are risks related to “the privacy of elector information and other fraud opportunities.”

As a result, the report stated, “Administration recommends that Council wait until the Province makes updates to the Local Authorities Election Act.”

Municipal voter lists are mandatory in most Canadian provinces – except in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In Alberta, municipalities have the option to implement their own list of electors by a resolution of council.

The LAEA also provides for provincial government assistance to municipalities with information to create the permanent register of electors.

The City of Calgary does conduct a door-to-door enumeration of residents on election years and prints voting register cards that each elector must sign before voting.

On a related matter, the County council has authorized an expense of $130,000 to conduct a municipal census in the current year.

 

Opinion: Rejection of Wintergreen redevelopment a healthy decision

By Enrique Massot
The County News

The newly-elected council of Rocky View County sided with the public interest when it turned down a large development proposal in the former Wintergreen ski hill.

(Full disclosure: The author of this column lives in the area and might have been impacted by the proposal).

The ruling of the newly-elected council was a welcome departure from previous councils’ decisions that on occasion disregarded sound planning principles, advice from administration and community input.

Approving construction of 300 homes without solving safety, transportation and servicing would have created large liabilities to be eventually shouldered by municipal and provincial taxpayers.

Questions remain about the process the County followed prior to bringing the proposal to council’s consideration.

The Resort of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) proposal tripled the number of houses allowed by the Greater Bragg Creek Area Structure Plan (ASP). However, this major change to the ASP was never put out for public consultation, as directed by the County Plan’s section 28.5. The developer representative at the Nov. 28 public hearing just brushed the ASP aside, calling it “outdated.”

Public consultation, however, would have allowed for community discussion about the proposed increment to residential density and the inclusion of a commercial component in Wintergreen instead of the hamlet as directed by the ASP.

“The municipality needs to…guide the developer and the community towards a solution that fits with the overall vision for the community.” Resident Henk van Klinken.

Instead, public information about the proposal was reduced to three developer-hosted open houses in 2014 and 2015. After that, little information transpired until last November, when the County sent letters – to some area residents only – advising of the Nov. 28 public hearing, with a short deadline to respond.

To top it all, residents only became fully aware of the long list of unresolved issues in the RCR proposal – and the County administration’s recommendation for refusal – when the Nov. 28 meeting agenda was released on Nov. 22, that is, six days before the public hearing on the project.

RCR, on the other hand, did conduct a poorly advertised meeting attended by about 30 area residents on Nov. 23. Read more »

Rocky View rejects Wintergreen redevelopment proposal

Enrique Massot
The County News

(Editor’s note): this news story expands on the original version published on Jan. 24.

Residents applauded Rocky View’s decision to quash a proposal to build about 300 homes, a hotel and commercial space in the former Wintergreen ski hill.

On Jan. 23, the council of Rocky View County turned down on a 7-2 vote the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) proposal, on a motion of area Coun. Mark Kamachi.

“The newly appointed Council has done the right thing to refuse the application,” said area resident Henk van Klinken. “There were too many unresolved issues to let the developer proceed with the project.” 

Wintergreen resident Dr. Bernie Luft commended the County’s planning department for their responsible and objective evaluation of the increased safety hazards that were inherent in the development conceptual plan.”

“It’s something that would affect the entire Wintergreen and greater Bragg Creek areas,” Luft added. “Not just the residents immediately adjacent to the proposed location.”

The picturesque Wintergreen area was proposed as a residential and commercial subdivision.
Photo: County News archive.

 

Luft and van Klinken were part of over 40 area residents who signed letters of concern after Nov. 28, asking council to reject the RCR proposal or reduce its size.

The RCR plan proposed an overall residential density about three times higher than allowed by the Greater Bragg Creek area structure plan. The plan also directs commercial development to the Hamlet of Bragg Creek.

Council granted the RCR proposal first and second reading on Nov. 28, but withheld third reading and directed County administrators to work with the developer on a list of outstanding items which included:

  • A second emergency egress for West and North Bragg Creek
  • Upgrades to a two-mile long road connecting Wintergreen to the Hamlet and Highway 22,
  • Upgrades to the Bragg Creek wastewater treatment plant
  • A second emergency egress from the proposed subdivision

County planner Johnson Kwan reported meeting with developer representatives and landowners twice in December – to no avail.

“Today, no additional information and no new technical studies have been provided to address outstanding technical issues,” he said.

As he had done on Nov. 28, Kwan recommended council to turn down the proposal.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, west and north Bragg Creek with 500 homes are required to have at least two access routes. Currently, the area can be accessed only through the Balsam Ave. bridge in Bragg Creek.

“At the end of the day…the main purpose of a municipality is to develop and maintain safe and viable communities.” Coun. Mark Kamachi

Additionally, building just 100 homes in Wintergreen would have triggered the need for a third access point, as recommended by the NFPA for communities with over 600 residences.

RCR proposed to amend its two-and-a-half-year application to reduce the size of a proposed hotel to 50 rooms from 100. The second amendment proposed to “explore” funding for upgrades to Wintergreen Road – at subdivision stage. Kwan cautioned council that the developer would be able to appeal subdivision conditions to the Municipal Government Board, taking the matter out of council’s jurisdiction. Read more »

Opinion: Wintergreen redevelopment approval premature

By Enrique Massot
The County News

It’s difficult to imagine how a proposal to redevelop the Wintergreen ski hill into a residential and commercial subdivision could receive final approval at a Jan. 23 Rocky View council meeting.

“That thing needs to go back to the drawing board 10 times,” former Rocky View councillor Bob Everett told the Cochrane Eagle newspaper.

An administrative report has, for the second time, recommended the Rocky View council to turn down the proposal to build nearly 300 homes, a hotel and commercial space.

Full disclosure: The writer of this op-ed lives near the proposed development and could be impacted for it.

The developer, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), was given preliminary approval on Nov. 28 but was told to solve a list of outstanding issues prior to final approval consideration.

In spite of the additional time, RCR did not solve any of the pending issues listed by County administration – same for the two and a half years since the application was submitted to Rocky View.

Some of those items include a plan to provide a second egress for the area, and a commitment to upgrade the only access way to the site, a 3.2-km narrow and winding road connecting Wintergreen to Highway 22.

RCR hasn’t committed either to fund upgrades to the Bragg Creek wastewater treatment plant, as advised by County administration. The conversion of a water licence to domestic use has not been approved.

“…approximately 300 residences in an isolated, steeply sloped area…without an emergency egress in the area, is not safe.” Rocky View Administration

The project’s overall density is three times what is allowed in the Greater Bragg Creek area structure plan, but public consultation process as mandated by Rocky View’s highest-level planning document – the County Plan – has not been conducted. Read more »

Rocky View administrators recommend refusal of Wintergreen redevelopment

Developer fails to address outstanding issues

By Enrique Massot
The County News

For the second time, Rocky View County administration is recommending council to reject a proposal to redevelop the former Wintergreen ski hill into a residential subdivision.

“Creating a community with approximately 300 residences in an isolated, steeply sloped area, with a high/extreme wildfire risk, and a single internal road that funnels all the traffic onto a single access, without an emergency egress in the area, is not safe,” noted planner Johnson Kwan in a report to council.

On Nov. 28, council ended public input, voted first and second reading, and directed administration and the developer to solve outstanding issues. Council also agreed to consider again the proposal on Jan. 23.

However, after meeting twice with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) representatives, Kwan wrote, “The Applicant has not submitted any additional information or new technical studies to address the outstanding technical issues detailed in the November 28, 2017 staff report.”

Nonetheless, Kwan included an option for council to approve the developer’s plan with a total of 57 amendments, “in an attempt to mitigate the outstanding technical matters through policy development.”

Kwan, however, is not recommending council to go for the amendments.

“Any of the potential requirements necessary to address and mitigate the impacts as a result of the development, would be subject to appeal at the future subdivision and/or development permit stages,” he noted.

For example, one of two RCR-proposed amendments would require the County and the developer “to explore cost contribution for Wintergreen Road upgrades at the time of subdivision.”

Instead, upgrades that are required to accommodate development-generated traffic are to be financed by the developer, Kwan noted. However, RCR could appeal conditions such as upgrading Wintergreen Road, which County administrators have estimated at nearly $2 million without land-acquisition costs.

“The appeal would be outside of Council’s jurisdiction,” indicated Kwan.

As a result, Kwan recommended council to turn down the application.

By refusing the proposal, noted Kwan, Rocky View would keep in line with provincial legislation.

“In accordance with the Municipal Government Act (Section 3a), one of the main purposes of a municipality is to ‘develop and maintain safe and viable communities,’” he wrote.

The Rocky View Council will consider third and final reading to the redevelopment on Tuesday, Jan. 23, during a regular meeting that starts at 9 a.m.

Rocky View County’s municipal building is located at 911-32 Ave. N.E., Calgary.