Efforts to build an emergency exit road for fire and flood emergencies West Bragg Creek are officially stalled.
During the Dec. 5 meeting, Rocky View County (RVC) councillors were unable to reach an agreement on how to move forward with a strategy plan.
At a Governance Committee meeting back in September, council decided to end conversations with the Tsuut’ina First Nation, whose lands the emergency access road they had hoped to build on, and decided that County administration would prepare a report on the creation of a feasibility study that was then presented to council at its Dec. 5 meeting.
Jeannette Lee, representing the County’s engineering and capital services department, presented on behalf of administration and requested that $95,000 be set aside for the completion of a feasibility study.
According to Lee, the feasibility study would assess the official cost of a bridge construction at Bracken Road or Spruce Avenue, and would be completed by the second quarter of 2024.
The plan presented to the County was for a pedestrian bridge at either Bracken Road or Spruce Avenue that could double as an emergency vehicle crossing, with construction estimated to be around $8 million. The construction of a full bridge would cost somewhere around $40 million.
Council quickly became divided on the subject.
“I cannot see us spending $95,000 for what we know is going to be way beyond our budget,” said Division 7 Coun. Al Schule, who quickly asserted his disapproval with the idea of a feasibility study.
“I’m gonna have trouble supporting this,” agreed Division 5 Coun. Greg Boehlke. “I think there is an option to go to the Tsuut’ina people and we should have explored it before we went ahead with a feasibility study on a bridge.”
According to Byron Riemann, the executive director of Operations for the County, the Tsuut’ina First Nation has been non-communicative when it has come to the County’s attempts to work with the Nation on this issue. During the Governance Committee meeting in September, Riemann said that there had been conversations between Tsuut’ina and a different council, but that those talks “[n]ever materialized” and “we sit today with no conversation left behind.”
Division 1 Coun. Kevin Hanson, who represents Bragg Creek, voiced his approval for the feasibility study, disagreeing with his east Rocky View counterparts.
“We decided two councils ago that this was important,” he said. “I do believe this will give us the information to evaluate this properly.”
Hanson then referenced the recent grass fire in RVC as a reason for why emergency access roads are needed.
“When thousands of people are in panic mode–that’s when this is needed,” he added.
Division 2 Coun. and Deputy Reeve Don Kochan said he believed that the County should still be trying to talk with the Tsuut’ina First Nation first before proceeding with the pedestrian bridge crossing idea.
“I think there is an opportunity for further dialogue to be had with Tsuut’ina,” he stated, “because I still haven’t heard what their position is.”
“We’ve tried to talk to Tsuut’ina for six years,” responded Hanson. “They’re basically interfering with our ability to provide safe egress.”
Division 3 Coun. and Reeve Crystal Kissel said her office has been inundated with emails from concerned Bragg Creek residents who are not in support of the construction of a pedestrian bridge.
“The people who live there don’t want this,” she stated. “They do not want this in the front of their homes … We haven’t considered that we’re making a decision based on something that one area of Bragg Creek doesn’t want.”
“Maybe you’re talking to more people than I am,” said Hanson to Kissel. “But this option isn’t in anyone's front yard.”
Hanson tried to further the cause by saying that, “$95,000 in the big scheme of things is not a large amount.”
Hanson then inferred that the money that would be used to pay for the feasibility study could come out of capital funding–such as federal or provincial grants–not local taxpayer dollars.
The vote for the approval of a feasibility study failed 4-3. Kissel, Schule, Boehlke, and Kochan opposed it. Hanson, and Division 4 and 6 Couns. Samanntha Wright and Sunny Samra voted in support of it.
Council will now go back to the drawing board, with the goal of hopefully finding a way to include the Tsuut’ina First Nation in any further emergency road construction.
“I think we need to go back to the conversation with the Tsuut’ina First Nation,” said Kissel. “Whatever that looks like.”
The issue of a secondary emergency egress road out of the hamlet of Bragg Creek came to the fore following the 2013 floods when some residents were cut off from potential escape when the Balsam Avenue crossing was closed off due to the structural risk to the existing bridge from the rising flood waters.