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Oil roads will be extinct in Sturgeon County within 10 years under a new plan to fix the county’s roads.

Sturgeon County council accepted the final sustainable roads improvement strategy report for information Tuesday.

The roughly 200-page document by Pillar Systems consultant Gordon Molnar outlines how the county can best fix its road network, which has been a perennial source of complaints.

Those complaints likely grew louder this week after heavy snow and rain made some roads impassable mud-bogs and frustrated efforts to fix them.

“Today is a very exciting day for the county,” said Ian McKay, the county’s general manager of municipal services, as it was the end of a year’s worth of research and consultation with council and residents.

“To our residents we say: you talked, we listened, and we have a plan.”

This plan was meant to get the county’s roads into a state where the county could afford to maintain them, Molnar said.

The county’s oil roads were so high maintenance that Molnar recommended paving them all within 10 years. He also recommended that the county maintain a higher crown (middle height) on gravel roads and implement new road maintenance techniques such as chip-sealing and micro-surfacing for paved ones. He also flagged some 600 locations where crews should clear sight-lines to improve safety.

Molnar’s recommendations would cost $30.9 million a year for the next five years, which would mean a $7.6 million increase to the county’s annual road budget. This would get the county a sustainable road network in 10 years and allow council to start spending less on roads in 13.

While there wasn’t much the county could do about the current weather-induced road problems, Molnar said having proper crowns would help gravel roads shed water and stay drivable.

Transportation manager Shane Hogan said in an interview that road crews have already started work on gravel road crowns, many of which had decayed to near-flat conditions over the decades. Crews have a documented training program in place to teach crews how to create a proper crown, and aim to have at least four per cent crowns on all gravel roads within four years.

“We’re setting targets, we’re measuring, we’re training,” he said.

Coun. Karen Shaw said she had already seen road improvements in her riding due to the new focus on crowns.

“We’re heading in the right direction.”

Hogan said crews hoped to pave 24 km of gravel by 2019, with another 176 km proposed after 2020. About 27 km of oil road would be paved in the next two years, with the remaining 52 km, including Meadowview Drive, done by 2027.

The county could complete this road strategy twice as fast if the money from the Sturgeon Refinery materializes, McKay noted.

Coun. Jerry Kaup said this was the most aggressive road strategy he’d seen in his 25 years on council, and that it would work if the weather ever started cooperating.

“If we can do it with the (weather) conditions to do it, it will work.”

County council signed off on its first tax cut in years this week, potentially putting more doughnut dough in people’s pockets.

Council signed off on the 2017 tax rates Tuesday, approving a 1.22 per cent tax cut.

While the budget had called for a 1.315 per cent tax hike, that became unnecessary due to some $138 million in unanticipated growth. The owner of a typical $502,650 home will now pay $7 less in property taxes this year than last (not including utilities), saving them enough cash to buy a 20-pack of Timbits.

In an interview, Mayor Tom Flynn noted that this was the first tax cut issued by this council, and said it was done to acknowledge Alberta’s tough economic situation. He wasn’t banking on future cuts, though, as the county had a lot of spending to do on roads and other projects.

“If we can keep some of the lowest rates in the region, I think we should be happy with that.”

Tax notices go out on May 26.

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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.