Original Published on Aug 10, 2022 at 10:31
By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Municipal land zoning is an effective way to organize properties and their respective utility services and taxes. That’s not to say, however, that the needs of property owners don’t sometimes slip between the cracks.
Though zoned within the town of Pincher Creek and paying town taxes, Blue Mouse Greenhouse does not have access to the town’s water system. The greenhouse’s peak season requires more water than the property’s well can handle, leaving the only option to haul water from the MD standpipe.
Caitlin Kerr, who owns and operates Blue Mouse Greenhouse with her husband, made a formal request for the town to pay for an extension to connect the property to municipal water back in 2020. The closest waterlines are on Macleod Street and at the intersection of Main Street and Bighorn Avenue.
Due to the large construction costs, the town denied that initial request.
With the MD’s new standpipe operating down the road and connected to the waterline at MacLeod Street, Kerr again approached council with the request to connect her property to town water via the standpipe connection.
Kerr presented her case during town council’s June 27 regular meeting.
“It’s quite a big issue for us because we own a greenhouse and we go up to 3,000 gallons of water a day that we haul from the MD water stand to our building,” she said.
With her husband undergoing hip replacement surgery at the beginning of the year, Kerr says the only option is to pay employees to haul water in the greenhouse’s water truck as much as three times a day. So far, that has cost her close to $5,000 this season but doesn’t include wear and tear on the vehicle.
Even more concerning, Kerr continued, was the financial threat to her family’s livelihood if water from the MD’s standpipe became unavailable, which has happened before and forced the greenhouse to get its water from Cowley.
“That is sweating bullets for us, that our crop — our livelihood — is going to sit there and shrivel up to nothing because it doesn’t have water. It’s just all a stress for us not to be receiving the water,” she said.
“I do understand I have a big request here, and I understand that it will be a financial commitment from the town,” Kerr added. “But again, I am zoned in the town of Pincher Creek and I run a small business in the town of Pincher Creek that I take a lot of pride in and I think is a great service and value to the town of Pincher Creek.”
“We don’t disagree,” replied Mayor Don Anderberg. “We’ll look for a solution, and I’m not sure what the solution is going to look like — I know we can get water there, it’s just a matter of where it’s coming from and how it gets there and what lands it has to go through.”
Council returned to the matter during its July 25 regular meeting and decided to again decline Kerr’s request.
Although the MD’s standpipe does extend the waterline closer to the Blue Mouse Greenhouse, the extension is a private line and municipal regulations prohibit the town from adding infrastructure to it.
As a result, the closest connection point is the town’s line on Macleod or Bighorn Avenue, both of which are about 500 metres from Kerr’s property. A conservative estimate for the cost is $300,000, though likely much more, said Alexa Levair, the town’s manager of operations and infrastructure.
“A lot of the cost isn’t actually the pipe itself, it’s the excavation required along that entire length,” she added.
The fact the town doesn’t have an area structure plan for the eastern portion of the community is also an issue as such plans help determine the best infrastructure placement for future development.
Despite council turning down the request, Coun. Wayne Oliver said other options could be pursued, like sharing the cost or covering the price gradually through increased property taxes as a local improvement. As a member of the community, he added, Blue Mouse Greenhouse deserved some help.
“I’m not directly opposed to this idea that the needs of the greater community help the needs of the one individual who’s now become a part of the town of Pincher Creek,” he said.
Mayor Anderberg said the greenhouse could look into putting its own line in.
“It’s possible to get water there, if they want to put a dedicated line in — maybe talk to the neighbours about that,” said the mayor.
“They’d probably have to go across someone’s property and get an easement if they so wished. But the cost wouldn’t be exorbitant, like it’s not $300,000 to run a three-quarter-inch line.”
Administration was directed to speak with Kerr directly about why the town couldn’t pay for the connection upfront and discuss potential options to connect the property to the water system.
This item reprinted with permission from Shootin’ the Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta