Council delays BLESS decision

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Pricey fix for bird-watching platform prompted postponement

The design, size and function of a bird-watching platform at Big Lake could change as the city looks into cheaper options to fix it.

City staff estimated the platform, which was built in 1996 by the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) for $12,500, would cost $200,000 to repair. It has been closed since June when it was deemed unsafe because it was shifting from side to side.

A report to council on Monday suggested options from $200,000 to extend the structure’s lifespan by five years, to $600,000 to replace it entirely.

Councillors decided in a 4-3 vote to postpone a motion to repair the structure until the end of the first quarter of 2018 so city staff could look at cheaper options and provide more details and justification for the proposed costs. Staff will also conduct a legal land survey to determine if the structure is on city land or whether it is inside Lois Hole Provincial Park.

Councillors Sheena Hughes, Jacquie Hansen, Ken MacKay and Natalie Joly voted for the postponement.

Some of the estimates city staff presented on Monday had contingencies of plus or minus 50 per cent. The option to repair the platform currently has a contingency of about 25 per cent.

In voting against the motion to delay a decision, Mayor Cathy Heron said she had planned to ask for a project charter to replace the platform. Although estimates put that cost at $600,000, changing the size of the structure could lower those costs.

Heron said she is also against repairing the structure.

“It’s too expensive to repair,” she said.

“I wasn’t in favour of a short-term fix. I want to replace the entire thing.”

Hughes, who put forward the motion to postpone council’s decision, said she’s not against that but wants to see greater detail provided by administration.

Dan Stoker, a founding member of BLESS, spoke during Monday’s meeting to condemn the price tag attached to the proposed repair and replacement options.

He described the projected costs as “mindblowing” and “upsetting.”

When the platform was initially built, he said, the volunteers who put it together mistakenly built it too long. That led to it shifting over time as pilings couldn’t hold it in place.

He suggested the platform could be shortened from 100 feet to 40 feet, and it would accomplish the same thing as the current structure as long as it is built sturdier.

“That won’t cost $600,000, and it won’t fall apart in five, 10 or 30 years,” he said.

Costs, time-frame raise red flags

Councillors homed in on the high costs associated with the options city staff presented, as well as the time frames suggested.

Repair costs would cover bracing the structure and repairing most if not all of the timbers on the octagonal part of the pier.

While the existing deck was constructed to support 40 pounds per square foot, the building code currently requires the deck to sustain 100 pounds per square foot. Repairs would bring the structure up to code.

As for an entirely new structure, councillors heard the city would need to put in expensive helical piles, which require regulatory approval under the federal Water Act.

Estimated completion of repairs would mean the platform could open in December 2018; replacing the structure entirely would take three to five years.

“That’s demoralizing to anybody who wants to go out there and use it,” said Coun. Wes Brodhead.

The platform itself would take an estimated two months to build. However, some of the delays are attributed to building code regulations and environmental regulations, both of which have become more stringent since the platform was originally built in 1996.

Colin Prang, director of engineering for the city, said since its construction, the area became a protected area and a provincial park. That means the city needs permits from federal and provincial governments, which staff said can add years to the timeline for projects.

The construction window is shortened each year because of the Migratory Bird Act, and workers would be limited on noise and how much they impact the area.

“As you get longer construction periods, you end up increasing costs,” Prang said.

Additionally, the city would be doing public consultation to determine what user groups want out of a new platform.

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