Chestermere City Council voted to maintain the prohibition on recreational use of storm ponds at the Feb. 20 council meeting.
“We have been made well aware of the dangers of storm ponds and they are not for recreational use,” said Chestermere’s Mayor Marshall Chalmers.
While the decision to forbid skating on storm ponds is clear, the path to getting there has been anything but.
When city administration looked into the legal and liability issues surrounding the storm ponds it was discovered that all but two of the storm ponds in Chestermere are owned by Chestermere Utilities Inc. (CUI).
Because of the different ownership over the storm ponds, the city has passed a resolution preventing the use the two city owned ponds in West Creek and Rainbow Falls for recreation.
They have also directed administration to draft a letter to relay the relevant suggestions for CUI to implement for the remain storm ponds in the city.
This discovery has added to the disappointment and confusion felt by M’Liss Bustard, one of the Kinniburgh residents whose son was removed from the pond in January by a city peace officer, on the city’s decision to uphold the recreational ban.
“The City only owns two ponds in Chestermere, and currently they do not have enforcement rights over the other ponds as they are owned by CUI,” she said.
“At the time we were removed from the pond, the City wasn’t even in a position to do so,” said Bustard.
Interim CAO Pat Vincent admits that the city probably didn’t have the authority to remove the skaters from the pond.
“If you roll back the clock at that particular moment in time we…probably didn’t have the appropriate authority to do so but I think speaking from a public interest perspective that it was the right course of action in terms of protecting people’s safety,” he said.
Vincent is working to get the appropriate written agreement in place with CUI to allow the city to provide enforcement on the utility company’s storm ponds.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who owns them, they’re not for recreation, period,” said Chalmers.
Bustard said that she feels that the city has failed to adequately explain why the ponds aren’t for recreation.
She spoke to council previously in question period and e-mailed questions to be responded to at the Feb. 20 meeting that she said have gone unanswered.
“I am trying to understand the risk/injury frequency and severity between the Storm Ponds, the beach, bike park and skate park,” she said.
“It continues to not be clear why a classic Canadian game that has been played on all forms of rinks for centuries, is now too dangerous for the citizens to do at their own risk,” said Bustard.
While Chalmers can understand why people want to be able to skate on the storm ponds he said that the dangers have been clearly shown by experts in the fire department and the city’s legal advisors.
“I grew up playing hockey, I grew up skating so when there’s a sheet of ice that’s what you do that’s what we Canadians do,” he said.
Chalmers said that he was unaware of the safety issues when this issue was first brought to council’s attention.
Since then he has said he has been educated on the dangers lurking beneath the ice.
“As much as we would love to see people out there skating it’s just not for that use,” he said.
What this issue has brought to light is the need for more recreational amenities in the city.
“So that’s the upside and we’re taking the safety aspect serious,” said Chalmers.
City administration has already been hard at work looking into other options available to the city.
Vincent said he was quite surprised to hear from his senior managers that the options for outdoor skating rinks will be presented to council as part of the 2018 business plan.
“I’m pleasantly surprised and I think council will be thrilled that we’ll be dealing with that issues much sooner in the next few weeks,” said Vincent.
The business plan will be presented to council with the 2018 budget review that council will be starting on April 4.
Bustard said that she is not interested in seeing public money being spent on more outdoor rinks.
“Quite frankly, I am not interested in needing to load up the car to enjoy a skate or hockey game elsewhere in the city.
“I am also not interested in having tax dollars spent on such facilities,” she said.