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Coaldale town staff respond to Site A concerns

Posted on June 25, 2019 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

Coaldale town council has voted to move forward with Site A.

During their regular June 10 meeting, administration provided Coaldale town council with a staff report containing their response to questions raised by the delegation at the previous May 27 meeting. The delegation had voiced safety concerns to council regarding the Site A location in northwest Coaldale for the proposed high school and rec centre.

At the start of the report, Mayor Kim Craig apologized for a comment he made at the May 27 meeting, where he “had mistakenly answered no” to a question on whether council’s decision on Site A was final. It was later brought to his attention that in the town’s 2019-21 Capital Budget, passed in November 2018, Site A was named as the proposed high school and rec centre location. Although the $10 million rec centre will be funded by the town, the future of the $38 million high school “is not certain until a funding announcement is made” as it will be funded by the province, and he apologized for “misspeaking” and any confusion his response had caused.

This prompted an outcry by some people in the gallery, who accused him of lying about the state of the project.

“It seems a little bit strange to me,” said Kyle Frache, one of the delegates from the May 27 meeting, in comments following the meeting.

“I just don’t know how he can get away with just lying to the public like that and saying hey, we are going to stop, and we’re going to look at other areas, in which he, you know, he never intended to do that, because he knew that Site A was already chosen, in my opinion.”

Town staff presented a 600-page report to council, and representatives from CP Rail were on hand to talk about rail safety. The report covered topics such as town growth, infrastructure and safety upgrades, the communication and engagement process for the facility, public safety and economic/financial impact.

Town CAO Kalen Hastings said that Coaldale is similar to 45 other municipalities in Alberta, which have a Highway and railway going through them as well.

“In each of these communities, there are amenities and residential populations on either side of the highway and railway,” said Hastings, adding that the number of trains and vehicles that go through town are below the provincial average.

“While our population distribution is not as balanced as a lot of other communities, the one thing that’s different from Coaldale compared to the other communities we’re looked at is they’ve got schools and recreational facilities on both sides of their highways and railway, Coaldale does not, even though we have a fairly large, comparative population mass on that side of town.”

Hastings also noted that with the newly annexed lands, they expected 3-4,000 more people north of the highway and an additional 6,000 people to the south, putting their population spread more in line with the communities that they’ve looked at.

CP rail representatives reported that Coaldale averages six to 10 trains going through town per day, 5,200 feet in length, at a speed of roughly 40 miles/hour, or 64.4 km/hour. They are working with the town on improving the pedestrian access at the Highway 3/30th Street intersection, which include flashing lights, bells, gates, a pedestrian pathway, a pedestrian overpass and installing fencing along the railway.

When asked to comment on train lengths and crossings, Paul Whalen, western grade crossing coordinator for CP Rail, said that they are not looking to grow longer than the current 5,200 feet in this corridor. There are currently four intersections within town, and two just outside town limits, that would allow someone to travel north of the tracks, and they range about 1,740-5,400 feet apart.

“At most, if there was something, we could block one, possibly two, but again, if we were, what we would be looking to do is break our trains, try to move our trains so as to clear that,” said Whalen. “But you would, at any given point in time, should have two crossings available to get your Emergency Services, to get through town.”

Between 2016-2018, the Coaldale Fire Department responded to eight collisions on Highway 3, and of those, seven were motor vehicle collisions and one was a train incident at the 11th Street crossing. Coaldale Fire Chief Kevin McKeown said that train incident was a car versus train, and it was “important to note that this was at a crossing with no crossing arms”, and perhaps an upgraded crossing would “assist with that” in the future. Additionally, he said that there were no pedestrian incidents on Highway 3 during that time, although there were two along 20th Avenue, leading the department to have a long-stand policy to not exceed 40 km/hour along that road when responding, due to the high risk.

Site A currently falls within a 10-minute response time for the department, based on findings from Morrison Hershfield Limited 2013 Study on the Regionalization of Emergency Services and Emergency Management. However, as the town continues to grow along its west side, McKeown cautioned that it might be hard to meet those times.

As the facility would be classified as Group A, Division 2, under the Alberta Building Code, it would require life safety measures such as non-combustible construction, sprinkler system, a supervised fire alarm and a hydrant within 45 meters. McKeown said these safety features would make “for an extremely safe building.”

McKeown also presented four estimated response times to the joint facility featuring different intersections to travel north through, based on the RAND formula —which assumes an average speed of 56 km/hour and considers average terrain, traffic and weather — and a six-minute chute time, which was the average after-hours chute time for most composite fire departments, although McKeown said their daytime chute time would probably be closer to that of a career fire department at 90 seconds.

The first scenario saw them crossing north at the 20th Street Intersection and going west on 18 Avenue, for a response time of 8.8 minutes. The second had them travel west on Highway 3 and heading north at the 30th Street intersection, for a time of 9.4 minutes. McKeown noted that this might be the preferred route, as it prevents them from travelling through residential areas on 18th Avenue and would allow them to travel at higher speeds. However, based on the formula used, this was a slightly longer route.

The third had them first travel east and then north through the 11th Street intersection before heading west to the facility, at a time of 10.4 minutes. The fourth had the department use the 8th Street Intersection as the north access point before heading west to the school, at a response time of 12 minutes. McKeown said with the wait time of having a train pass, it might be quicker to wait for either the 30th or 20th Street crossings to clear rather than go with the latter option.

Noting travel times to similar destinations with fire departments in places such as Taber, Canmore, Strathmore and Fernie, B.C., he said that Coaldale’s response times for a diversity of scenarios fall within an acceptable level.

“It can be concluded that municipalities can safely and effectively grow on either side of a rail line and highway, while still providing timely emergency response.”

In the town’s 2019-21 Capital Budget, $5 million was budgeted for traffic lights, and road and underground infrastructure upgrades for Site A.“There’s been some inaccurate conceptions about no amounts being budgeted for safety,” said Kyle Beauchamp, director of corporate services for the town.

“This is to show that there’s been $3 million budgeted for traffic, $1.5 (million) for general roads and half a million for general utilities.”

Although the costs associated for the facility’s infrastructure upgrades were estimated at $7,384,600, including a 20 per cent contingency for potential cost changes and full engineering costs. Those were excluded from the capital budget figure as the town is exploring in-house engineering options to mitigate costs, and there is uncertainty associated with a contingency that may be years out. The town would be funding the facility through strategic business ventures, taxes and offsite levies.

Council unanimously passed a motion to uphold the Joint High School (grades 7-12) / Multi-Use Recreation Facility project site that was approved in the 2019-2021 Capital Budget, and to direct administration to take steps to proceed with the following: design and construction of the Multi-Use Recreation Centre on the southeast portion of the Town-owned parcel of land legally described as SW 15-9-20 W4 (subdivisions 3 and 6); continued collaboration with Alberta Transportation and CP Rail on the design and construction of a fully signalized intersection at the intersection of HIGHWAY 3 and 30th Street, as well as the installation of a safety fence along the HIGHWAY 3 corridor; design and construction of paved and detached pathways along 30th Street, 18th Avenue and 16th Avenue, as well as the addition of at-grade pedestrian crossing improvements; further, that Council direct administration to undertake, in tandem with Palliser Regional School Division and the Town’s architectural design consultants, community consultation initiatives to determine the amenities to be included in the multi-use recreation facility. Coun.(s) Briane Simpson and Henry ‘Butch’ Pauls were absent from the meeting.

The full report can be viewed at http://www.coaldale.ca/2019/06/joint-high-school-rec-facility-report-to-council/.

After the meeting, Frache said that the town had put on a presentation for the public “once again” that was very biased towards Site A, and said the town didn’t answer any of his questions. While the town compared Coaldale to other municipalities with highways and railroads through them with schools and recreation facilities on either side, they didn’t include incident reports on those intersections.

“In Taber, there’s been deaths by collision by trains in those intersections; they didn’t tell us that,” said Frache. “They are only telling us the positive things about the area or different municipalities.

Frache applauded McKeown and said he was doing a “good job”, but expressed concern that his presentation focused on best case scenarios when responding, and not the worst case scenario, such as what happens when they’re traveling to an intersection that gets blocked and need to double back.

Frache said the town had no budget for infrastructure such as overpasses — although the report did contain an estimated cost of $4,782,000 for a pedestrian overpass, and the town is looking at grants to construct one — and expressed concern that the cost of the infrastructure projects could quickly balloon to more than the estimates for the south side locations, and asked why the town did not provide numbers such as response times for the south side sites.

“Even when they did hold information sessions, there was no equal way to compare Site A with Site C or Site E on the south side. Why didn’t they put in as much effort in promoting all sites and saying the negative and positive things? Because they didn’t do that, people are upset, and they’ve already made the decision,” said Frache.

“People didn’t vote for a running track and a gymnasium, you know, they voted for an addition to the hockey rink and a swimming pool upgrade.”

According to the report, the results of a sport and recreation needs assessment survey had 23 per cent of respondents saying that they would prefer to see an indoor pool, while 22 per cent said they would like to see an multi-sport indoor recreation facility. The town is currently exploring a private/public partnership model for a new pool and available options to construct a second sheet of ice, according to the capital budget.

Frache also questioned where the architectural design is for the school and rec centre, asking how they can get their numbers on how much it will cost without those being available, which is “concerning” for a tax payer.

Frache said that he and others who are concerned about this are contacting MLAs and the Palliser Regional School Board to voice their frustrations.

“I think we have to stop, step back and involve the community a little bit more, and present every site equally.”

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