Wetaskiwin adopts water rescue agreement, receives mixed feelings from Leduc

The final draft of the Pigeon Lake Ice and Water Rescue initiative was accepted by Wetaskiwin County...

The final draft of the Pigeon Lake Ice and Water Rescue initiative was accepted by Wetaskiwin County council at its April 5 meeting, with some minor amendments.

That same day Leduc County council discussed giving its support to the project in one way or another, with mixed feeling among the councillors. Ultimately they decided to make a one-time donation of $15,000. The money is coming from the Mission Beach Lot Proceeds Reserve, a fund set up specifically for Pigeon Lake.

County of Wetaskiwin

The county’s director of emergency services Mike Zajac says all of the conditions for the initiative, including the funding, is in place, allowing council’s approval.

“I read the agreement. I was really impressed,” said Coun. Larry McKeever.

He hoped to have the program up and running by June but says he understands how important it is to have the proper details in place.

The agreement outlines a 10-year commitment for the communities involved with an opt-out clause after seven years, this was changed from a five-year opt-out.

Coun. Terry Van de Kraats did not like the idea of a five-year opt-out. “I like that we go 10 years.”

“I think they all see the value in this. I don’t think anyone would opt out,” said Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers.

However, if a municipality did eventually opt out it would be up to those left to pick up the monetary slack.

Council pointed out most of the costs are upfront, which councillors hope will act as an incentive to stay. Rooyakkers feels the clause may be a deal breaker for some of the summer villages around Pigeon Lake.

“I don’t have a problem with the five years. It shows flexibility on our part,” said McKeever.

Van de Kraats added in five years there may be different councils in place who could have different feelings about the initiative and wanted the 10 years to ensure commitment.

“It’s not a huge amount of money. I don’t know why we’d just allow someone to opt out for whatever,” said Coun. Keith Johnson, in support of Van de Kraats.

Leduc County

Leduc County councillors had many concerns regarding the Pigeon Lake Ice and Water Rescue initiative.

One of its main concerns was the project was taking away a service already under the care of the RCMP and giving it to a volunteer fire department (Mulhurst Bay).

Council was also concerned about maintaining training and program maintenance.

“I have some concerns,” said Coun. Clay Stumph. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s a recovery that falls under the RCMP.”

He feels if a boat capsizes on the lake others will pitch in to help until the RCMP arrive. “Water rescue falls under federal jurisdiction. I have a little problem with this.”

Coun. Tanni Doblanko agreed the service was already being taken care of by another jurisdiction. “It’s always hard to speak against something that could save somebody’s life.”

Coun. Rick Smith took a different opinion than his peers. He feels the initiative is a good opportunity to work together with the County of Wetaskiwin and the summer villages.

Smith does not see how RCMP services should be a concern and used his own first aid training as an example. Administering first aid does not mean he is taking away from medical personal but Smith says the knowledge allows him to act as a first line of defense until they arrive.

“This is a good idea. This is a bunch of municipalities working together,” said Smith.

He asked the members to council to think about what their decision would be if it was their friends or family in distress on the lake.

“Wetaskiwin County has stepped up for their ratepayers,” said Coun. Glen Belozer, who feels not being involved would be wrong.

Mayor John Whaley says a willing fire department ready to take on the responsibility which can operate with a quicker response time than the RCMP is a worthy program. “That’s cheap protection. I’m willing to support this motion based on that.”

Doblanko feels the proposed 10 minute response time, especially with a volunteer fire department during day calls is being overly optimistic.

Coun. Audrey Kelto did not like that the boat may be used on other nearby lakes if the money is coming from a Pigeon Lake fund.