The Reeve's Report
THE REEVE'S REPORT
STRONGER EVERY DAY
May 14, 2013
Today marks the second anniversary of the wildfires that swept our region.
The loss and grief experienced that day was enormous – of homes, of pets, of precious things.
All of us have a story about that day. Etched into our memories forever – one of those moments in life when we will always remember what we were doing, how we were feeling, how abnormal, almost surreal the day was – anyone in Lesser Slave River on that day will remember.
Many remember the smell in the air, the darkness that descended on our community, the sounds that came with the fire and the silence that followed.
But that same day, while we recall easily those frightening memories we also remember the incredible stories of courage, extraordinary acts of kindness and the genuine coming together of a community that cared deeply about each other.
The overwhelming community response to our wildfires will be the lasting legacy of that time in our history. Drawn together by a desire to help our friends, our neighbours and strangers, to help our community heal and rebuild.
For some, two years is a long time from the fires and for others the recovery continues and the memories remain raw. Everyone has a different way of coping and of learning to live with the loss they suffered that day.
And in those two years, our community has changed. We continue to grow and develop. Houses have been rebuilt, some quickly and some took longer. Some people have moved, others stayed, new families have moved in and started new chapters in their families' lives.
Our response to emergencies has been overhauled – lessons learned in the harshest possible way.
We have learned much from the experiences of 2011 and our community is a safer place as a result. We are now better prepared for an emergency than ever before.
While these may seems small steps in isolation – together they symbolize the rebuilding, recovery and renewal of our fire affected region.
So today, let’s gather and remember. Share stories and memories.
We pay our deepest respect to those who lost so much that day – for lives and families that were changed forever.
But we also give thanks for everything that we have – our strength and resilience as a region, a proud home to a community that comes together and that will always remember May 14, 2011, as a defining date in Lesser Slave River's ongoing story.
In commemoration of the 2011 wildfires and on behalf of the MD and its residents, Council travelled to the Alberta Legislature yesterday to personally thank the government for their support. Read the thank you letter that was read before the Premier and Legislature.
And on behalf of Council and staff, I would also like to thank residents for their patience and understanding as we continue to work through our own recovery. The past two years have been challenging for municipal administration due to the additional and ongoing workload. I sincerely appreciate your support.
So today, on a day not unlike that of two years ago, take the time to remember what happened, support each other, and reflect on the journey that has occurred since.
Reeve Denny Garratt
October 22, 2012
Like many of my colleagues, friends and neighbours, I feel very fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of our Alberta. We are surrounded trees, trees, and more trees filled with wildlife. We have an abundance of campgrounds, trails, parks and beaches. Our region has a rugged beauty like no other.
But the flip side of this coin is that beauty can turn to terror – and great fortune to great loss – in the blink of an eye.
We learned this lesson in May of 2011. Over the span of several days, the lives of thousands were changed forever. Families were stunned and uprooted. Our infrastructure was destroyed and our MD workers were stretched beyond their limits. In the days and weeks that followed, reality sank in. We looked behind us and saw what we had just survived. Then we looked ahead and saw that our REAL work was still ahead. RECOVERY!
After the fire, many lessons have been learned. In terms of dollars spent, losses incurred, and the social toll on our residents, these lessons have come at a staggering cost. But our goal as an MD was to use this knowledge to make our communities safer, stronger, and more prosperous than ever before. I am here today to share our thoughts with you.
Following any traumatic event, the process of recovery is long and complex. It will take years, and it will require the resourceful and dedication of everyone who calls our region home. But we are making progress. And believe me when I say that history will never repeat itself. Not because fires won’t threaten us again, we still live in the woods. We will be far better prepared. We will respond sooner and in greater force. We will fight smarter and with better resources at our disposal. And using our hard-won experience, we will try our best to not let mother nature beat us.
Our first commitment following the fires was to meet the immediate needs of those who had to flee their homes and leave all their possessions behind. The list of municipal neighbours, groups and individuals that assisted in this process is far too long to mention here. But I will say that the provincial government was extremely responsive in our time of need, and continue to be a tremendous support. They helped us find our footing, and they work side by side with us to help us realize our future vision of our region. Money was immediately put into place to safely get our residents back home, and a second fund was established to assist with ongoing infrastructure and social recovery.
Of course, this all comes with an added layer of bureaucracy. It means that our staff and council are now required to manage recovery activities as well as their regular municipal duties. To help in this process, we formed a Tri-Council. Our MD, the Town of Slave Lake and the Sawridge First Nation. Each group comes to the Tri-Council with different perspectives and priorities, but we all have a shared goal…. doing what we feel is best for the entire region.
The second stage of our recovery was to prioritize the hundreds of issues that demanded the attention of our already strained resources. First and foremost was to reinforce the critical services that safeguard our communities. Residents need reassurance that their lives will be safer. Protecting a region surrounded by forest is not easy – but we will try our best.
Our fire hall in Widewater was lost to the flames. It has since been rebuilt and now supports a new Search and Rescue operation. Near our industrial park in Mitsue, we are building a second fire hall that is scheduled for completion next spring. We have new firefighting equipment, gear and supplies in place. I can say that our fire fighters are better equipped, better trained and more prepared than ever before!
Extensive work has been completed by ESRD and the FRAT team to develop a comprehensive FireSmart strategy for our region. A number of large FireSmart contracts have been completed and more have been scheduled. We have hired a FireSmart team to complete some of that work and to educate our residents on how to best manage their properties to mitigate the spread of fire.
During the crisis, our primary weapon against the flames failed: water….we ran out! The cruel irony is that we live next to the 2nd largest lake in Alberta, but all traditional means of using this resource for fire suppression were cut off. The helplessness that followed, cannot be described. But we are working hard to ensure that it never happens again.
Preliminary work is underway on the development of a secondary regional water line and dry hydrants that will provide the water capacity when required for core protection in the urban wildland interface.
During and after the disaster, we learned the importance of communications. In particular, our residents looked to us for accurate information and for vital news. And we failed but never again. At the MD, we have since made a commitment to ensure that the lines of communication remain open, clear and uninterrupted. We have a new Website that can be instantly switched to emergency mode and we use social media tools such as Facebook to engage our residents. We also use digital road signs, have created phone lists for our subdivisions, and will be implementing an auto-dial system in 2013. Externally, the enhanced communication efforts of ESRD to the municipalities and public over the last year is imperative and greatly appreciated.
Emergency planning is now integrated into every aspect of what we do as a MD. Our back-up servers are replicated off-site. We have a GIS system in place and can easily pinpoint locations or contact residents. We have back-ups, fail safes, and emergency relocation strategies in place. Every tool, system, or process that had failed us under pressure is being addressed.
Our final commitment is to help people heal properly and to foster a healthy community. The reality is that the social toll of a tragedy is enormous. It affects everyone in different ways, and it must be a major consideration in any recovery strategy. We continue to focus a lot of our resources on organizations that provide support to our families such as Victim Services, schools, family counseling, health care, mental health and AADAC to name a few.
We are helping our region to not just survive, but to thrive; to not just cope, but to overcome; to not just get better, but to grow stronger.
In the spring of 2011, we were reminded that nature is an awesome force, and that life is fragile. We re-live this EVERY DAY. But we are also reminded that we are stronger than we realize. A couple of examples are:
- Strength between co-workers fighting fear and fatigue to get residents out of harm’s way.
- Strength between families looking out for one another.
- Our collective strength with the Town of Slave Lake and Sawridge First Nation as we work side by side on our future.
I believe in the saying “tough times don’t last forever, tough people do”. This is the true backbone of our community, and it is something that no fire can ever destroy.
Reeve Denny Garratt
A SUMMER OF GROWTH
July 27, 2012
As we head into the height of our spectacular Lesser Slave Summer, I find growth to be a recurring theme. As an avid gardener – and as an elected official – I can appreciate our growth on a number of levels. In my travels across our region, I look across healthy fields. I witness the completion of key projects and facilities. I see people building, landscaping, creating, collaborating, and sowing the seeds of their future success. I see a community that is not merely on the mend, but that is flourishing.
Crops, hay and pasture are all looking exceptional this year, thanks so far to Mother Nature. As we do our best at the MD to promote desirable growth while impeding the bad, our Weed Control Partnership Program is in full swing. You may have received our Plant Smart notice on your door, outlining some of our most persistent invasive species and how to combat them. This information is also available on our Website at md124.ca/content/plant-smart. Thanks to all of you for being so cooperative with our weed control initiatives – from being proactive in weed-proofing your properties to taking advantage of Herbicide Handout Wednesdays in Slave Lake, Smith and Flatbush.
Notwithstanding the devastation we suffered in 2011, summertime in Lesser Slave River has always been known for relaxation, downtime and enjoyment of our rugged-and-real region. For many, this means activities on the lake and surrounding beaches. Others take to the woods for camping, hiking, horseback riding or quadding. If you are a quadder, I encourage you to visit the Old Peace River Trail system that runs from Smith to Athabasca. Thanks to a million-dollar municipal grant, this refurbished trail features wide-open multi-use pathways, new bridges, and access to a spectacular wilderness area overlooking the Athabasca River. The grand opening of this trail is August 30th; watch our website for more information.
This summer also marks the growth of our Fire Services infrastructure. The newly completed Widewater Firehall is a welcome and active presence in the community, and the Mitsue Volunteer Fire Department is also up and running in its temporary facility pending completion of the future Mitsue Fire Hall. Of all the public works and infrastructure projects underway, I think we all share a special appreciation for those that reinforce the safety of our homes and loved ones.
Given the industrious nature of those who live and work in Lesser Slave River, it’s no wonder that so much is getting done so quickly. While I commend you all for the critical roles you play in our continued growth and success, I also think it’s important to take a break, enjoy the beautiful weather and look back on everything you’ve accomplished this year. Have a great summer everyone!
Reeve Denny Garratt
ONE YEAR STRONGER
May 18, 2012
May 15 marked the anniversary of the wildfires that changed our world forever. At the commemorative event that day I joined Premier Redford, Mayor Pillay-Kinnee and a remarkable schoolgirl named Nykaea Lebsack in speaking to those of you in attendance about the year that was. I’d be lying if I said it was pleasant. There’s no joy in looking into the eyes of friends, neighbours and colleagues who have had their lives uprooted and their homes destroyed. Some of you lost everything you owned. One man lost his life. It is a day that’s impossible to celebrate. But it will always be a day that’s impossible to forget. And that’s why I felt it was important to stand at the podium and say a few words.
May 15 is not a day of celebration. But I think you would all agree with me that it is a day of reflection. A day to look back at the hell we’ve endured, and to take stock of where we’re at now. I don’t think I’m alone in marvelling at how far we’ve come as individuals, as families and as a community.
The Widewater Fire Hall is nearing completion, and another is soon to go up in Mitsue. Work on the town office and library is well underway. People are moving into their new homes. Our efforts to rebuild are well underway. More than anything, the past year tells a story about our resilience. A story of our strength. Of our resolve to get up off the ground, dust ourselves off and keep fighting, no matter how big our opponent is.
To me, May 15 also marks a day of fellowship. Throughout this whole ordeal, there has been one common denominator: people. The municipal worker who evacuated us. The firefighter who risked his life in the blaze. The volunteer who rescued our animals and the Peace Officer who kept watch over our neighbourhoods. The doctor who stayed behind to care for us despite losing everything. From elected officials to everyday heroes, the people who saved our lives, who helped us cope with our losses, and who continue to help us rebuild, come from all walks of life and number in the thousands. On behalf of Lesser Slave River and from the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you.
Ultimately, May 15 will represent something vastly different to everyone who lives here. Across our region, hope stands next to despair. There is anger and there is gratitude. Guilt and relief. I won’t tell you how you’re supposed to feel, because I can’t. But what I can do is use this infamous date as an opportunity to tell you what I feel.
Pride that during the worst, the very best of your character shone through. Pride in your bravery, in the kindness you have shown one another, and in your patience and perseverance throughout this difficult year. I’m proud of you all, I’m honoured to represent such an amazing group of people, and I’m confident that together we will build a stronger, safer and more prosperous region.
Reeve Denny Garratt
A GLANCE BACK, SOLID STRIDES FORWARD
May 1, 2012
We are all keenly aware of the unwelcome anniversary that is upon us. One year ago, we weathered an environmental disaster that turned homes, businesses and entire communities to ash. As challenges go, it was without precedent. It was a disaster that broke our hearts for a moment in time, but it didn’t break our rugged-and-real spirit or our determination to rebuild. When I see the resilience of our people, the progress of our recovery efforts and the inroads we’ve made to safeguard our communities, I’m reminded of an Ernest Hemingway quote: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” We didn’t ask for this ordeal, but we survived it and we are now stronger than ever because of it.
In the weeks and months that followed our region’s crisis, I thanked a great many people: fire fighters, pilots, government officials, and municipal neighbours who lent assistance in our time of need. On the eve of this dark date I’d like to acknowledge the people of Lesser Slave River themselves. To those at ground zero, thank you for looking out for your neighbours. Thank you for your perseverance during what must have seemed like unending misery and unfathomable bureaucracy. Thank you for following the rules…and for breaking them on occasion to do what you thought was right. To communities such as Smith and Flatbush who weren’t caught in the line of fire, thank you for opening your doors to us, and for making do with less of our municipal time and attention as we fought fires – both literally and figuratively. I’m honoured to be your representative. Lastly, I’d like to thank each and every one of our MD staff and Council members for their tireless efforts and selfless acts during the worst catastrophe to ever befall our region. I’m proud to be your colleague.
A number of events are planned to coincide with the anniversary of the May wildfires. While the date of last year’s disaster is certainly not an event worth celebrating, it is a time to come together as a community. It is a time to reflect on the bravery of those who fought the flames, the determination of those who aided in our recovery, and the compassion of our new friends from across Alberta. It’s also an opportunity to share our stories and marvel at how far we’ve all come – as individuals, as families and as a community.
In this spirit of fellowship and remembrance, Tri Council would like to help you host a barbeque for your community. Just provide us with the details of your event and we’ll cover the cost of supplies to the tune of $5 per person. Visit the Commemorative Events section of this website or call 780.849.8013 for details on how to take advantage of this program, aptly named One Year Stronger.
Other important activities include a wellness conference from May 10 to May 12 at the Sawridge Inn; a media event on May 15 to formally recognize the anniversary of our crisis; and a May 20 memorial in Canyon Creek to honour downed pilot Jean Luc Deba. I urge you all to take advantage of these opportunities to reflect, heal and further strengthen our community ties. Check out our News & Events section or call 780.849.4888 for more details.
We always make every effort to minimize the amount of taxes we charge our residents and business owners; in fact, we remain one of the municipal districts with the lowest tax rates in the province. However, an unavoidable consequence of last year’s disaster is a significant increase in major initiatives and, as a result, an increase in taxes required to fund these initiatives. On average, taxes will increase by 5 per cent this year. In my twelve years with the MD, this has been the most challenging budget that I have had to prepare. However, we have an obligation to maintain our services, to be fiscally responsible and to ensure our long-term sustainability.
With a number of initiatives underway throughout the MD – many of which are nearing completion – the spring and summer months will be busy ones. We will soon achieve milestones such as completion of the Widewater Fire Hall, establishment of a new fire station in Mitsue, reconstruction of roads, bridges and infrastructure, and significant enhancements to our water systems. Many of these projects continue to pose challenges due to time constraints and staff limitations, but thankfully we have had help from the Regional Recovery Coordination Group, and from our strategic partnership with the Town of Slave Lake and Sawridge First Nation. Through alliances such as these, we have achieved far more – and in far less time – than we had anticipated.
No matter who you are or where you reside within the MD, you play an integral role in our growth and long-term success. I applaud your many acts of bravery, patience and kindness throughout this difficult year, and I’m confident in our collective ability to build a stronger, safer and more prosperous Lesser Slave River.
Reeve Denny Garratt
YOUR COUNCIL’S KEY PRIORITIES FOR 2012
February 15, 2012
As the elected officials, staff and managers of Lesser Slave River, we work hard each day to make our amazing region even better. Over the past year, we’ve worked especially hard. Since last spring we’ve dedicated a great deal of time, effort and resources toward projects designed to fortify our communities against future threats, communicate more effectively with our constituents, and continue to move the recovery of our communities ever forward. I’m proud to report that our combined efforts to create a stronger, safer and more prosperous Lesser Slave River have taken root and are beginning to grow. The message you’re now reading, and the website it’s posted on, are proof positive of our growth and adaptation as a municipality, and of our commitment to the community.
I’d like to use my inaugural Reeve’s Report to let you know what your Council’s key priorities are for the foreseeable future. In the weeks and months to come, you will likely see a number of projects underway that focus on the following areas:
Secondary Water Sources: This project involves the development of water sources; either by way of a regional waterline or by dry hydrants (places to draw water). Although we are surrounded by water, the irony is that it is not always easy to tap into. We’re working diligently to address this issue.
Emergency Preparedness: We’re making some fundamental changes to our emergency communication system throughout the MD. These changes are aimed at efficiently locating and alerting residents in the event of an emergency. A key element of this initiative requires your participation. I urge you to respond to our Get on the Grid campaign and help us update our database with current phone numbers for all Lesser Slave River residents.
Health Care: Your Council continues to work closely with the Government of Alberta and local health care professionals to address regional health care concerns. Specifically, we’re focused on improving access to health care for everyone in the region.
FireSmart: We will all soon become familiar with the term FireSmart. Spearheaded by SRD and the Regional Fire Department, FireSmart provides communities with practical and proactive methods of reducing exposure to wildland fire. Visit www.md124.ca/content/firesmart to learn more about this vital initiative.
One of my responsibilities as Reeve of Lesser Slave River is to keep residents and businesses owners informed of the municipal directives that affect their daily lives. But as much as I enjoy talking, I find listening to be a more productive activity. Whether you chat with us on Facebook, respond to our online surveys or attend a Council meeting in person, we are listening to you, and what you have to say informs our direction. I encourage you to continue to take part in the conversation – and in the growth of your municipality.
Reeve Denny Garratt
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