Town cleaning up 'colossal mistake'

Okotoks: 'Oversight' saw piles of dirt and debris piled behind homes

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014 04:53 pm

Donna Forter, Dean Gilmer, and Gord Trenaman are one of many Downey Green residents who are angry with the town for leaving a mountain of dirt in the park behind their homes without consulting with residents first.
Donna Forter, Dean Gilmer, and Gord Trenaman are one of many Downey Green residents who are angry with the town for leaving a mountain of dirt in the park behind their homes without consulting with residents first.
Roxanne Blackwell/OWW

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Town council is cleaning up their own mess, after an “oversight” saw a huge amount of dirt piled behind residents’ Downey Green homes.

The Town is expected to start hauling away piles of dirt left in Wylie Park tomorrow morning, pending a decision by council tonight at a special meeting being held to approve funding for the work.

The dirt was leftover from the construction of a pathway through the Park which began earlier this summer and was piled up to form hills at the edge of the park near the Okotoks Recreation Centre.

Residents living on Downey Green were furious at the town for leaving the hills behind without consulting them.

Coun. Matt Rockley was the first to offer up an apology at a meeting on the issue on Monday night, saying there was no excuse for not including residents in the process.

“There’s been a lack of communication on a number of fronts… There weren’t any fill activities that were communicated at the times that it went through committees or council for budget approval,” he said. “The scope of work was never close to Downey Green. In the designs that went forward with administration and contractors, that notion of fill came to be…Bottom line it shouldn’t have happened and we need to do what we can to make it right for you guys.”

Donna Forter’s home is one of many that backs the park. She’s lived there for 18 years, so when she returned from a summer holiday and looked out her back window, she was shocked to see her mountain view replaced with a pile of dirt sitting ten feet tall, and spanning across nearly 20 houses.

“They certainly didn’t let us know, or anyone in Okotoks basically know what was going to go on,” she said.

Forter said all of the residents in the area supported construction of the new pathway, but there was never any mention of the dirt that has now taken over the area.

“I think there's been a lack of transparency. I really do feel that they snuck this in on us,” she said.

For the residents, the only acceptable option moving forward was hauling the dirt away.

Two meetings have now been held between town staff, council and area residents The first was at the park on Aug. 21, and the second was a meeting in council chambers last night with the entire council present, where nearly 30 residents showed up to vent their issues loud and clear. After the meeting, council met to discuss options moving forward, and municipal manager Rick Quail said today that the Town will hold an official meeting tonight at 9 p.m. to approve the costs to haul it away.

Downey Green resident Dean Gilmer said the residents have had no choice but to come together and push back against the Town.

“This was put in without any consultation. Once you do that it's pretty much shoved down your throat, and that’s why everybody gets their back up, you need to discuss those things in advance,” Gilmer said at the first meeting.

Municipal Engineer Marley Oness said the lack of public consultation is uncharacteristic of the Town.

“Its embarrassing, it is not our practice,” he said. “Our history, if you’ve been here for a length of time, you know we tend to open house people to death. Unfortunately it got missed but hopefully we can come up with a plan to move forward.”

Removing the dirt will come with a hefty price tag. The estimated cost to take all the dirt to the landfill is $300,000 – a fee that the Town’s engineering department was hesitant to tack on to the project cost, which has already cost $600,000. This is already up from the original budget of $503,000. One of the additional cost factors has been hauling out the unexpected slabs of concrete that they’ve dug up. The pathway is located right through the middle of a ravine, a ravine that was formerly a Town of Okotoks construction dumping site.

“It was primarily concrete debris with rebar in it. When we started to encounter of the debris we had no idea of the extent of it,” Oness said. “The larger pieces of debris have been trucked out, and there has been over 70 loads taken to the landfill,” he said.

The smaller pieces of debris have ended up in the dirt pile that was intended to be spread behind the homes of the Downey Green residents.

One resident in attendance, Jack Smith, said he’s a former town employee and is aware of a number of contaminants in the soil.

“That was a legal dump for the Town of Okotoks purposes. It was shut down,” he said. “It should have never ever been touched again.”

Downey Green resident and former town councillor Stu Donaldson said he can attest that there was a car buried in the ravine at one point.

But so far, Oness said they haven’t come across any contaminants.

Alberta Environment has now been to the site twice to do testing, and on Aug. 25 council requested the consulting engineers to test it again to confirm. The dirt will now be hauled to the landfill where it will sit until the results come back, and then will be used as fill material for the landfill.

“It might cost money,” Coun. Rockley said, “But mistakes often do.”


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