Original Published on Jul 30, 2022 at 10:22

By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As a rural municipality, the infrastructure residents probably use the most in the MD of Pincher Creek is the gravel roads. Road maintenance is therefore one of the biggest operation focuses for the MD.

Unfortunately, sometimes the results are less than perfect.

MD council brought up concerns regarding the work done on Snake Trail during the July 12 regular council meeting. 

After receiving complaints, Coun. Harold Hollingshead and Reeve Rick Lemire went for a drive on Snake Trail.

“You wouldn’t know that work was ever done,” Coun. Hollingshead said. “The gravel is pushed over, and there are places that have seven, eight-inch-tall ridges and they just graded the gravel over it. That’s a lot of gravel, and it’s not just intermittent — it’s continuous.”

The issue appeared to be the result of operator error, he continued.

“My concern is, now that we’re mowing the ditches, the shoulders — is that gravel going to be lost? What are we going to do? You can’t even tell the work was done. We must have spent hundreds of thousands regrounding and reclaiming all that gravel in the ditch. It’s something that we need to address.”

With recent heavy rains, the continuous windrow on either side of the road prevented water from properly draining, resulting in a deluge of complaint calls from residents, some of which took matters into their own hands.

“It’s the most calls I’ve ever had — 18 calls,” said Reeve Lemire. “It’s a sad day when a farmer has to go out with a shovel to drain the road.”

Adjusting how gravel is spread was one quick fix, the reeve added, but shaping the ditch with grader blades would help re-form roads to drain better.

“I think we need to see a plan, coming up maybe for next year, on how we’re going to prevent this. We’re missing the boat here, and it’s not magic — there’s no magic to this,” he continued.

“All you need is a competent grader man that’s not scared to pull that ditch, and just knock that stuff to the bottom to put a shape back on your road.”

While appreciating the concerns raised by residents, public works superintendent Eric Blanchard said the structure of the gravel roads was creating a difficult situation for operators.

“It’s easy to think that we can cut four, six, 10 inches of gravel out of the road to shape it and remove washboard and reground it, but unfortunately that’s not how it works. Most of the time there’s only three-inch gravel on the road surface, and if you cut too deep you bring back all that black dirt or that rock that is under the structure under the ground,” he said.

The age of MD roads, he continued, was also part of the problem.

“Those roads have been built 50, 60 years ago and were designed for way smaller equipment, way smaller trucks, and now we see massive tractors hauling overweight every load,” Blanchard added. 

And while pulling ditches was a potential solution, the available number of crew limited what work could realistically be done each season.

“I understand all the concerns I’ve been hearing today, and I really wish we could solve all of it overnight — but it’s really hard to overtake those huge new tasks with the manpower and the equipment that we have right now,” said Blanchard.

“We are struggling right now just to find people to sit in those mowers to get started next week. Our maintenance activities are really demanding and are taking all the manpower that we have.”

Contracting out mowers to free up MD workers for grading was one possible solution discussed during the meeting, though Reeve Lemire said improving efficiencies to decrease the number of workers needed for gravel was the easiest fix.

“I don’t want to micromanage, but here’s ways we can be more efficient, I think,” said the reeve.

“And I know it’s hard — it’s hard when you have all these jobs to do and you’re looking at where to go next. I understand where you’re at and what you’re doing and we appreciate it, but some of those things there I think we could do a little bit better.” 

The next regular council meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 23, 7 p.m. in council chambers.

This item reprinted with permission from Shootin’ the Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta