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    Categories: Environment

$200-$600K bill for BLESS platform

The BLESS platform continues to be closed as seen in St. Albert December 14, 2017.

St. Albert will need at least $200,000 to fix the BLESS viewing platform on Big Lake, a report to council says.

City council will receive a report Monday on the cost to repair, replace, or destroy the Big Lake Environment Support Society viewing platform.

Built around 1996 by BLESS for $12,500 and turned over to the city for a dollar, the platform was the site of the annual Springing to Life bird count and drew hundreds of visitors on most weekends.

City crews closed the platform last June after an inspection found many structural problems.

“It was listing pretty heavily to the south and into the lake,” said BLESS member Miles Constable, and shook from side to side whenever a bike rolled onto it.

“You could tell there was something structurally wrong with it.”

Administration ordered a more detailed assessment and got a draft report last month.

Five options

The report gives council five options on what to do with the platform.

Administration recommended that the city temporarily fix the platform for $200,000 and work to build a replacement within five years. This would see the platform reopen by next December. Cash for this option would come out of the 2017 capital funding reserve.

Council could instead do a more extensive fix that would last 10 years but cost $360,000 and not be complete until March 2019. Building a new platform would take about five years and $600,000. Simply demolishing the current one and replacing it later would cost $100,000.

Constable said it was unfortunate that the platform would stay closed for a year under most of these options, but understandable – Big Lake wasn’t a protected area back in the mid-1990s when the original structure was built.

The report noted that fixing, demolishing, or replacing the platform would be subject to time constraints under the Migratory Bird Act, and would require many approvals and permits from Altalink and the federal, provincial, and local governments.

The city could leave the platform closed, but administration warned that this could create safety and liability issues.

Constable agreed, saying that some residents are still using the platform despite the risk.

“You can’t leave it as-is. If you just pull it out, it’s going to be a real loss for the park.”

Mayor Cathy Heron also ruled this out, as many people used the platform.

“It’s a big addition to the city that BLESS added, and I’d like to see it reopened as soon as possible.”

Provincial solution?

Heron said that these options were “crazy expensive,” but noted that building standards were much different back when the platform first went up.

“If it needs rebuilding, we’ve got to rebuild it to pretty high standards to protect the public.”

Constable said the $200,000 option could be a good one, as it would give the city time to work with partners on a replacement. BLESS, Edmonton and the province could all help with fundraising. Alberta Parks is also just starting its plans to develop Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, and this is a good time to add the platform to those plans.

Heron said she is working with local MLAs on a solution, given that the border between the city and Lois Hole Park runs through the middle of the platform.

“We’re building infrastructure in a provincial park, and I think there are some easy wins for the province to come to the table and help to build this thing (into) something we’ll all be proud of.”

The BLESS platform report is available in the agenda package for the Dec. 18 meeting.

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.