Faced with five pricey options to remove, replace or repair a bird-watching platform at Big Lake, St. Albert city council chose ‘none of the above.’
The platform, built by the Big Lake Environment Support Society around 1996 at a cost of $12,500, has been closed since last June after a structural assessment found the platform was unstable. Since then, the price tag for repair or replacement has ranged from $140,000 to $600,000.
On Monday, councillors debated the merits of removing the structure entirely, shortening it and repairing it. They ultimately chose to wait until July so city staff can come up with a sixth option: build a new viewing platform on land. The current platform juts out into the water of Big Lake.
The vote was 4-3 in favour of waiting for the sixth option, with Mayor Cathy Heron, Coun. Wes Brodhead, Coun. Sheena Hughes and Coun. Jacquie Hansen voting in favour.
City staff have until July 9 to draw up a report on that option and bring it to council.
The decision means the eventual re-opening of the platform will be pushed further into the future and it may not re-open until sometime in 2020. Much of the delay is due to extensive permitting the city will need to obtain before fixing the platform.
Council chose July 9 after hearing the city cannot do any construction on Big Lake between April and July anyway because of bird migration and fish spawning.
Of the five options presented to council on Monday, city staff had recommended council approve a $140,000 solution to remove the viewing platform on Big Lake and part of the boardwalk, repair the remaining boardwalk and install a railing at the end for safety.
However, council members and residents alike felt that option fell short because it would not provide any sort of platform or deck for bird-watchers to use.
Some councillors favoured a different option to repair the whole structure, extending its life for five years, at a cost of $180,000. That option would have had the quickest turnaround time, with the platform re-opening to the public in December 2018, but the cost did not include an eventual demolition cost of $110,000.
Brodhead put that motion forward initially, arguing his goal is to have the platform return to public use as close as possible to its original function.
He said he felt it would overall be “money well spent.”
But while many councillors spoke in favour of Brodhead’s motion, some changed their mind for the vote after Heron said she wanted to see a sixth option to bring the platform out of the lake. Brodhead’s motion ultimately failed with Heron, Hughes, Hansen and Coun. Ken MacKay voting against it.
Following that vote, Hughes put forward the motion to have the sixth option presented in July.
Heron said the five options city staff presented are still on the table if council decides to go with one of them in July.
“I thought there was a missing option, and I didn’t want to go spend $180,000 with that missing option,” she said.
“People love this place and we just want to do it right.”
Prior to their discussion, councillors heard different opinions from three different residents.
The sixth option that will be presented in July falls in line with an option Dan Stoker wanted to see. Stoker presented to council on Monday to express disappointment that that option was not one of the five under consideration.
Stoker said he has been busy advocating for a shortened platform out of the water since finding out in December that the platform’s replacement could cost up to $600,000.
While he was pleased to see an option for a shortened platform, Stoker said having a boardwalk without a platform on the end would defeat the purpose.
“To end up with a platform without a deck is like ending up with a table without legs,” he said.
“It simply lacks functionality.”