By Nikki Jamieson
During their March 22 regular meeting, the Municipal District of Taber met with a delegation of eight M.D. residents who are directly affected by the road ban on 50th street, to discuss their options moving forward.
The year-old dispute with the town of Taber over the road ban on a portion of 50th street has seen little progress. While the town council continues to ask the M.D. to contribute to the cost of upgrading the road, the M.D. says that their roads are to the same standard as the contested road and the town needs to lift the ban.
“This road is within town boundaries. This is not an M.D. road, we have no say in what does or doesn’t happen to that road, that’s 100 per cent the town control,” said Brian Brewin, reeve for the M.D. “We have never in the past, or plan on in the future, participated in building another municipality’s road. We have hundreds of miles of our own roads to build, and if we start building roads for other municipalities, it won’t go over well, put it that way.”
However, as a formal request from the town had been submitted to the M.D. council at their last council meeting, they were obligated to ask their ratepayers what they thought of the situation.
“Seems to me what’s happening is a pissing match,” said Joe Singleton, M.D resident. “When the town doesn’t get what they want they’re trying to exclude the M.D. or levy taxes and fines against us, and that’s come up with a lot of issues lately. I know this road has been in controversy for quite some time, when my father in-law used to sit on council some years ago. Back then, the town tried to say it wasn’t their road, it’s the M.D.’s road, but it was inside town limits. Again, just looking for somebody else to split the bill.”
According to Brewin, a few years ago they offered to repave the road when they were doing their side of it. While it wouldn’t have been for free, the town could still have saved plenty of money.
“We had equipment and everything there, we weren’t going to pay for (their side), but it would have saved them a lot for mobilization fees and everything else,” said Brewin. “It would have been done straight through, and it was turned down.”
The road ban on 50th street from 64th avenue to 80th avenue prohibits most heavy vehicles – including farm equipment – from using the road. This has caused some concern for the M.D. residents in the area who regularly use the road, who say that the town is holding them hostage in this dispute.
“I’m like being held hostage. Basically that’s what they’re (the town) trying to tell the M.D,” said Singleton.“Unfortunately, you are the people it’s effecting,” said Brewin. “Right or wrong, and that’s why you’re here today, we need to, at least, appreciate the situation we’re in right now.”
The contested portion of 50th street lies on town of Taber property. The M.D.’s position on contributing to the road has been that it is not their road, and in the event that they contribute, it would set a bad example for other municipalities, who would start clamouring for the M.D.’s help for their projects.
“The town of Vauxhall already has some live roads they’d like us to fix, and the village of Barnwell has roads that they would like us to participate in,” said Merrill Harris, M.D. councillor. “If we do this (50th street) one, it’s just never going to end.”
The M.D. apparently already looks after a street on town property. Elfring, in response to a question, informed delegates that the M.D. looks after 80th avenue, including graveling and maintenance, as per an agreement with the town, at the M.D.’s cost of approximately $30,000 a year.
“To say we’re not doing anything is a false statement,” said M.D. councillor Ben Elfring, saying that the town was not looking after the road and trucks couldn’t get out because of it.
Elfring also stressed to the delegates, that comments made by a town of Taber councillor about him were not true.
“I would like to say to you and all of you folks here, the statements that councillor (Joe) Strojwas said I had made, quote ‘not giving a darn about Nakamura farms’, I will say publically that I have never ever said that, and I would never ever say that,” said Elfring. “I respect my ratepayers more then to be saying that in a meeting.”
According to administration, the M.D.’s roads are built to the same standard as 50th Street, but only have a spring road ban on them. However, in an in-camera session of their Feb. 8 meeting, town council voted to indefinitely enforce the road ban on 50th Street.
In a Feb. 22 meeting, town council also voted to send a letter to the M.D. council, asking them to foot half the bill for upgrading the road to industrial standards – or pay approximately $110,000. Last year, the town said the total cost of upgrading the road would be $400,000.
Council does not want to contribute to the road, but told residents that if they wanted, they could put on a tax to help pay for the road rehab.
“Whatever you guys, decide, I think I will agree with that. You’re the ones that have to make the decision,” said Ed Sanderson, although adding that he did not want to pay the extra tax when asked.“I’m with these guys; I think it’s up to you guys, but I don’t want to see my taxes go up,” said Isabel Nordquist, M.D. resident. “If that road is at the same standards as others in the M.D. that sustain some heavy truck traffic, then I think it should be left alone.”
Additionally, the ban on 50th street is the only road ban in town. The M.D. may place road bans on some of their roads in the spring, something delegates say they are happy to work around, but in the town of Taber itself, 50th street is the only road that town council places a ban on.
“Look at all the heavy truck traffic on 64th,” said Nordquist. “If the two roads are built to the same standard, what difference does it make? I’ve never seen a 5,000 K ban on 64th, or 50th avenue, or 47th, for transport trucks.”
“There’s not a road in this town that’s banned except 50th, and why should you people, or the M.D. ratepayers, have to pay for that,” asked Elfring.
The ban would not, according to the M.D, apply to vehicles carrying essential services, such as potable water, after one resident expressed their worries on how they would transport their water tanks.
“They cannot ban that road for essential service,” said Elfring. “Potable water is an essential service. They cannot ban the road if you’re hauling a water truck for potable, you can’t.”
Delegates also had wondered how trucks from Lethbridge would get to the town’s new recycling facility, which is located in the area.
“They’re planning on doing this big recycling centre, and I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago, that the town of Taber wants to purchase or have Lethbridge bring their garbage here basically, to this recycling facility,” said Ryan Geeraert, M.D. resident, adding that the town never asked the M.D. residents in the area if it was okay to construct the facility on nearby town property. “Just how many trucks are going to drive up and down that road to go to that facility?”
Exemptions to the road ban would apply to town vehicles, landowners on the road who have a permit and the trucks to the recycling center. M.D. councillor Dwight Tolton said he had brought up the topic of exemptions after the public left during the meeting with the town last year, and was told that any vehicle connected to the town would get an exemption from the ban, and that includes the above-mentioned recycling trucks.
“If the road is in jeopardy, an exemption paper can’t protect the road,” said Tolton. “So this thing is laughable, that they do this; exemptions for everybody or for a few, at the exclusion of the rest.”
In the Traffic Safety Act, there are several exemptions from road bans, which include school buses, rubber tired farm tractors, crossing a highway, government vehicles, transport of milk or fresh cream, transport of pregnant mare urine, transport of bread, heating fuel or fertilizer and vehicles carrying drinking water. Delegates were cautioned that if they were given a ticket while carrying these items, they might have to go to court to contest it, but it is covered by provincial law.
Enforcement on the road was also an issue. While special permits can be given to those who own/lease land off the road, Bruce Nakamura wanted to know how the town would enforce the use of permits.
“What I want to know is how are they going to police it? We got no problem, if it’s $50,00 or $100,000 or whatever… we could come up with (it), a few farmers who use the road quite a bit, and a few trucking guys that use it all the time,” said Nakamura, adding that it would be the big garbage trucks who would tear up the road. “But then what, are you going to put a great big permit sticker on every vehicle that you own so that they know it’s legal?”
All but one of the delegates told council to tell the town that they would not be contributing to the road. The M.D. decided to hold off on the decision until they heard back from the ratepayers who may be interested in raising the money.