Several hot topics dominated the discussion at Valemount’s first “Community Conversation” Nov. 29th, 2012.

Among them was upkeep of the Saas Fee property, snow removal, garbage pickup, Big Foot Trail maintenance, traffic concerns and the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

The meeting was organized by Mayor and Council to solicit feedback and generate discussion on village issues. As Councillor Dallas Bullock put it: “It can be an example of a collaborative decision making process to better meet the needs of our community; it can be the opportunity to give suggestions or solutions, share concerns or ask questions. Regardless, it brings us together.”

The 75 or so attendees were asked to prioritize a list of concerns in a vote at the start of the meeting. Once the votes were tallied, the mic was opened to the floor to speak on the issues in order of priority.

The issues provided by the village for voting were:

Snow Removal (38 votes), Saas Fee (37 votes), Big Foot Trail (28 votes), Kinder Morgan (23 votes), Federal Electoral Boundary (15 votes), Garbage (13 votes), Bylaw Enforcement (13 votes), Cypress St (6 votes) and “Other” – where the person could list an item.

Village CAO Anne Yanciw says the options on the ballot were chosen based on the number of calls and complaints they have had in the past. Mayor Andru McCracken said they wanted to narrow the focus of the issues to provide more direction for discussion.

Dennis Nordli offered the first comment at the mic, suggesting that downtown snow removal should be done at night or in the morning, since more can be accomplished without traffic on the road.

Several other people echoed these feelings. David Craig said he would like to see all public works employees trained on all equipment.

“On weekends, you have adequate people out there. If it gets compacted it’s harder and more costly to remove.”

On the issue of the Saas Fee Property (an empty lot in the middle of Valemount where Edmonton-based developer Shirley Sander plans to build a condo-casino complex), Joe Nusse said he wanted to make sure the precedents set by the village on this project are consistent with all other developments into the future.

“I want to see the process documented so that when other developers – bigger or small – want to do something, you give them this list that says this is the list, this is how it’s done.”

“If the village were to pay for the sidewalks in front of that building, it would have to be shared for all other developments on 5th Ave.”

Several people spoke about their frustration over the lack of summer maintenance on the property, where the grass and other plants grow several feet each year before being cut. The land has been idle since the old high school was torn down and the land sold to Sander about six years ago.

Pat Bennett says both the Saas Fee lot and the orange house across the street are not cared for and are bad eyesores as you drive into town.

“We just finished doing a big revitalization project that makes our town look absolutely beautiful. But (those ugly properties) are the first thing you see when you come into town,” she says. “I think that as a village we need to take a stand and make sure that people maintain their properties so that they look good.”

She says if the landowner doesn’t live in town, they should have someone local look after it.

“If they don’t, I think the village should clean them up for them and send them a bill.”

Della Marsh says she and her husband have lived in the village 20 years, and for 16 years her husband has complained every year about the maintenance in the Saas Fee lot, which was formerly a schoolyard.

“We as property owners all along there, we try to look after our properties. We spend lots of money looking after them. She does nothing over there. And I’m with Pat about the house across the street. If I was a tourists coming in here, I’d turn around at 5th by the police station and drive right back out. It is totally disgusting, and we just can’t go on like that.”

John Grogan said a few years ago the community came together in a council meeting where people stood in front of a mic and spoke for and against the rezoning of the Saas Fee property, which has not yet seen any development.

“At the time, I would have been a lot more comfortable if that rezoning had some stipulations, a performance bond, for instance. It was zoned public institutional and the public could have found ways to use that property.”

On the topic of the Big Foot Trail, several people suggested ways of better partitioning the road from the trail, which is built along the shoulder in some areas.

Korie Marshall said she loves the idea of the trail and thinks it’s not just for visitors but people who live here. But she said she has a concern where it’s close to the road.

“I’ve heard people concerned they’re going to hit their car door on the rocks. I can see that may be a concern in some places, but I’d prefer they hit a rock than me if I’m walking on the trail.”

Hiske Gerding said she noticed that with the boulders gone on 5th avenue some people are parking on the trail, including a school bus she saw parked there twice. She wondered if it would damage the asphalt.

Others suggested better lighting, dog poop bags, garbage cans, and using bendable posts to partition the trail from the road. Another comment was about the slippery trail and the need for gravel.

Another criticized the use of money on the trail.

Counc. Hollie Blanchette said the trail is not finished yet and they will be looking at adding a number of these ideas to the trail come springtime.

On the issue of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, Mayor Andru McCracken said the village has set up a committee to anticipate issues with the pipeline twinning and liaise with the company to find solutions. He gave the example of negotiating with Kinder Morgan to see if they could build housing units that could later be converted to seniors housing.

He said it will also offer opportunities to local contractors and entrepreneurs.

Curtis Pawliuk commented that the Valemount Recreation Development Association has been dealing with recreation environmental issues from Kinder Morgan for four years “that are pretty serious issues.”

“There need to be some do’s and don’t in terms of what we want in our backyard how to operate in the backcountry and how to keep recreational activities sustainable. I, too, reaped the benefits when they were here last time – it was awesome to have 500 people coming into town, we really needed that – but we also need to keep things sustainable while they’re here. Five hundred people in our mountains and our backcountry, they can do a lot of damage or they can do a lot of good.”

Counc. Christine Latimer said the village ran into issues with grocery stores and restaurants running out of food when Kinder Morgan twinned the pipeline through Mt. Robson in 2007.

“That’s one of the number one topics for the village committee that’s going to be speaking to Kinder Morgan over the next couple of years.”

On the topic of the federal riding change, Mayor Andru McCracken said he and council thought aligning Valemount with the Columbia Kootenay riding made more sense than being shifted to the Prince George Peace River riding, as is likely to happen next year.

“I sit on the board of the CBT and I know the mayors of Golden and Revelstoke. I also sit on the board of RDFFG. For me there’s a real community of purpose and direction with Golden and Revelstoke and less so with the other northern communities. For our representative in the House of Commons, it would be better to have someone who understands issues of communities like ours. You could argue the MP in Prince George is closer by, but his main constituency is in Fort St. John and his main concern at the federal level is pushing through projects like Enbridge.”

McCracken says the issues of most of the Peace River region are things like too much development, not enough workers, far different than Valemount. He says the other reason he thought it would be good is because of the Columbia River Treaty renegotiation.

Several people brought up concerns about garbage collection. David Craig said many seniors don’t get up at 7am for an early pick-up. If they put it out the night before, sometimes crows get into it.

The Village explained that they took over the garbage pick-up last summer, after purchasing the garbage truck from the last contractor who wished to retire. For a brief period they had a private contractor do the work, but later decided to train public works staff to perform the duties.

Marie Birkbeck complained about out of date signs in the village.

“It’s really frustrating. That sign (on the Shop Easy) has been there for two years and people still think there’s a bakery. They still think there’s a Sushi house on Main. Can’t we come up with something that says those signs come down?”

On the issue of the closure of Cypress St, Nick and Caitlin Beddington asked what could be done to re-open the road and why it was closed.

Counc. Christine Latimer explained that the road doesn’t meet the standard road-bearing capacity, it doesn’t have sufficient drainage, and it’s not capable of withstanding the climatic changes here.

Mayor Andru McCracken said once development happens in that sub-division the developer will be required to build a proper road. Until then, the road will remain closed. The village received several complaints about the dust due to accelerating vehicles.

Near the end of the meeting, John Grogan congratulated council on the Community Conversation event.

“I want to congratulate council on having this meeting tonight. I think it’s essential for democracy and transparency. I appreciate that everyone was able to speak honestly and I think we came away with something we didn’t have before we came.”

He said he would like to have these meetings more often and suggested a larger venue such as the community hall.

CAO Anne Yanciw said they are considering holding the meetings every six months, but Council will discuss the matter further.