At County Council

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Sturgeon County would need $42 million to fix all the problems with its roads, a report to council suggests.

County council received an update on the sustainable roads improvement strategy Tuesday from consultant Gordon Molnar of Pillar Systems.

The county hired Molnar to figure out how to improve Sturgeon’s road network, which is a perennial source of resident complaints.

Molnar said his team surveyed the county’s roads last year and scored each based on how bad certain common problems were on each.

While they found few problems with the county’s 212 kilometres of paved road, the team found major deficiencies on the 83 km of oiled roads. About 48 per cent ranked poor or very poor in terms of fatigue cracking, and about 45 per cent scored poor/very poor for surface condition.

“And that’s kind of expected,” Molnar told council – these roads were not designed for the traffic on them.

The study found a mix of problems on gravel roads (1,440 km worth), including dust suppression, gravel quantity and road geometry (crown size and width). About 33 per cent were ranked poor/very poor for dust control, while 23 per cent scored as such for crown and width issues.

In an interview, Mayor Tom Flynn said some of these problems were due to recent jumps in traffic size and volume due to industrial growth and bigger farm equipment. Past councils also voted to cut gravel expenditures, which pushed the costs of gravel road repair onto future councils.

Oiled roads did not have the substructure needed to support modern traffic, so he said he was not surprised by their poor state.

“Looking back, many of those (roads) were just poor choices,” Flynn said.

Crown and width issues were partially due to unskilled grader operators, Flynn said. The county struggled for years during the oil boom to retain trained staff, but that’s starting to change now.

“We have to find ways to train more people.”

Molnar found that it would cost about $4.26 million to restore the county’s oiled roads to near-mint condition – the county currently spends about $380,000 on them a year. Paved roads needed $5.83 million in repairs, while gravel ones needed $32.28 million.

The county has about 1,400 kilometres of road and can’t fix it all overnight, Flynn said.

“We need a 20- to 30-year view.”

Molnar will present his recommendations on a long-term road strategy later this year.

The county has saved about $2.4 million in recent years by running its own gravel pit, council has learned.

Council got a report on the county’s gravel pit near Villeneuve Tuesday.

Council bought land for the pit in 1960 but didn’t start mining it until 2014.

The county has since dug about 282,867 tonnes of gravel out of the pit, transportation manager Shane Hogan told council – a little more than the mass of three Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the Gazette estimates.

Hogan said the county had saved about $2.4 million by using its own gravel instead of buying it at market rates and now had enough stockpiled to meet the Villeneuve area’s needs for about four years. Should council authorize the next phase of the pit in 2019, it would save an additional $1.9 million and meet its gravel needs until 2025.

It will cost $617,010 to reclaim the pit in 2022, Hogan said.

Mayor Flynn says he wants council to help residents find a place to dump sewage from their septic tanks.

Flynn gave notice of motion Tuesday that he would ask administration next meeting to report on ways for residents to dispose of septic tank waste and to research the cost of the county providing such a service.

About half of county residents have septic tanks that have to be flushed of sewage every few years, Flynn said. Whereas they used to be able to dump that waste in the sewage lagoon near Roseridge Landfill, that lagoon is now closed. Residents now have to pay more to haul it either out of county or to the lagoon in the Sturgeon Industrial Park.

“Many of the lagoons we have in the small towns haven’t got the capacity to handle that extra big push,” Flynn said, and you can’t just crack open a manhole and dump this stuff.

“It’s a smelly issue!” he quipped.

Flynn said the county could end up building its own sewage lagoon, or could partner with the Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.