Experiencing the Prince Albert area firsthand, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities were here this week as part of a transient board meeting.
“We are from different areas of the province with different geographical issues and different municipal issues, so it’s very important for us to see this,” Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) president David Marit said in the midst of this week’s three-day cycle of tours and meetings.
With last month’s extreme weather events blowing down trees, outing electricity and flooding certain areas, this was the perfect time for SARM to visit the area, RM of Buckland Reeve Larry Fladager said.
“We really need the SARM board to understand the local issues, as they are a lobby group to the province as we deal with these things from day in to day out,” he said.
Given the timing, proposed changes to the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program and the provincial Wildfire Act were key topics of discussion.
The Provincial Disaster Assistant Program is overburdened, RM of Prince Albert Reeve Norma Sheldon said.
“They have a huge number of claims — over 6,000 claims, and I think that with that number of claims they have struggles also.”
Although the RM of Prince Albert has submitted a number of claims as a result of the recent storm events, they’re still waiting on the results of claims submitted last year.
“Our residents and ratepayers are in various stages of recovery from that storm,” Sheldon said, citing the area’s topography, surrounded by rivers and streams, as a contributing factor to continued flooding.
Another concern for the future is related to the decimation of forests in the area, bringing about concerns related to proposed changes to the Wildfire Act.
“If you take a drive out (Highway) 302 east, you will see the decimation of that forest, so now that forest is ripe for a fire, and if the changes go through we are going to be more than disappointed,” Sheldon said.
The Wildfire Act works quite well as-is, Fladager said.
“We had a fire in the Nisbet forest here two summers ago, and when we had the fire the current act was in place and it worked for us,” he explained.
“The partners in the community, including our Buckland Fire and Rescue, all of the other local fire departments and the provincial water bombing team all worked together as a team to deal with that issue and it worked extremely well.”
We are from different areas of the province with different geographical issues and different municipal issues, so it’s very important for us to see this. - SARM president David Marit
The proposed changes include adjustments to borders and who’s responsible for what.
“We don’t see a need for changes — especially in our municipality, where we see a big chunk of our area in the provincial forest,” Fladager said.
As has been consistent when it comes to voicing requests from the provincial government in recent months, the case for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing at or near Prince Albert was brought up.
City of Prince Albert Mayor Jim Scarrow met with the SARM board to highlight the efforts to build a second bridge, explaining the need alongside area reeves.
“One of the things we’re looking forward to from SARM is a resolution to promote the second bridge,” Sheldon said, adding that infrastructure money that may be coming in through the federal government will be looked into.
“Not only does it affect the city, but it has a great impact for the residents and the businesses of the rural municipalities both sides of the river,” she said, referencing the Diefenbaker bridge weight restrictions and lane closures of late last year that lasted until the spring in varying degrees.
Learning and insight went both ways, Marit said.
As a councillor in the RM of Willow Bunch, located about two hours south of Moose Jaw, Marit said that visiting Prince Albert area rural municipalities has provided quite a contrast.
“We don’t have the populations that these rural municipalities have, and issues around that — residential growth and how you deal with it and the issues of the ratepayers,” he said.
“We’re trying find ways to generate economic growth and development, and here they’re having that impact and they’re dealing with it the right way.
“It sure sends me home with some ideas on how to handle and deal with it.”
In addition to continued lobbying on behalf of the province’s rural municipalities, SARM’s next big effort will be drafting submissions for the provincial and federal budgets — a task typically completed by September.