Some Kinniburgh residents are looking for answers from the city after a day of pond hockey and skating was shut down by a bylaw officer Jan. 2.
“This is my third winter here,” said Kinniburgh resident and mom M’Liss Bustard, “we’ve been on the ice every single year without incident.”
The day of community fun and skating was shut down after someone called in a complaint to the city prompting a visit by a bylaw officer to explain the risks and get everyone safely off the ice.
There are signs up at the pond stating that skating, and other recreational activities are prohibited.
Bustard is skeptical of just how risky it is to use the pond for skating.
“If it is as high risk…considering the proximity to the K to nine school, this should have been fenced off,” said Bustard of the pond.
What she and other parents she has spoken with would like to see is for the city do a risk assessment on the Kinniburgh storm water pond.
The community would like to see specific information about the Kinniburgh pond, how many drainage pipes lead into the pond, and what sorts of contaminants are in the water that can affect the ice.
Chestermere Fire Services Chief Brian Pomrenke said that the Kinniburgh pond and all other storm ponds in Chestermere come with inherent dangers such as variable water levels, constant in flows and overland drainage collection that can include, chemicals, salts and silt.
“As inviting as it may be, they’re not the right place to use for recreation,” he said.
Adding to the danger of salts and other dissolved particles that can erode the ice from the bottom, in the winter variable water levels can lead to hollows under the ice that can’t be observed.
Bustard, for her part is unconvinced that these potential dangers make the pond unsafe for use.
“We don’t see salt on the loop,” she said.
“We don’t even see a snow plow so I’m pretty sure we can eliminate salt on this side,” said Bustard.
She also points out that the fire service does ice training at the pond and the neighbours can all see how thick the ice is when firefighters pull slabs of ice out to make an opening.
Pomrenke points out that his firefighters are wearing their exposure suits and have all their safety equipment on before venturing out on the ice.
“If we have to put all our PPE to feel safe on the body of water or on the ice, then why would we even think about letting our public on it,” he said.
He also said that just because the ice is thick doesn’t make it safe.
“Our motto for ice rescuers is…that no ice is considered safe ice,” he said.
He also said that the fire service uses storm ponds as training sites because that is where they are most likely to have to perform a rescue.
“That’s probably where we’re going to be called in the event of an emergency,” said Pomrenke.
Community member would still like to see a risk assessment done on the pond.
Once the specific risks of that pond are known, Bustard said she would like to see the city live up to its branding as Alberta’s Oasis and amended the bylaw to allow for safe use of the storm pond at one’s own risk instead of the total prohibition that is currently in place.
Bustard said that there are plenty of examples of use at one’s own risk recreation in Chestermere already.
“The beach its use at your own risk, the sledding hills those are all…use at your own risk but for some reason they took a really hard stance on this because there’s a possibility that an injury could happen,” she said.
The community has already taken its own steps to mitigate risks on the storm water pond.
Bustard said that the community self-polices the rink and kids are never out skating without adult supervision.
While none of the surrounding municipalities allow for recreation storm pond use, Bustard said that she has done some research and found other municipalities that do allow it.
“Saskatoon and Lacombe, I found their storm water pond policies and the allow skating, they also allow summer activities,” she said.
Lacombe’s policy permits the use of three of their storm water ponds for recreational activities.
When it comes to skating, Lacombe’s policy states that, “these three SWP locations will be inspected on an ongoing basis to ensure safe ice thickness levels.”
In Lacombe, the ice must be a minimum of 20 centimetres before people are allowed to skate on them.
Bustard said that this shows that there are solutions that balance safety and recreation.
“I’m of the opinion that it was easiest to just implement a bylaw where you can’t do it because it eliminated all risk or liability for the city,” she said.
They would like to see Chestermere take a more active role in managing the risk and designating what parts of the pond are safe to use similar to what Lacombe has done.
“Where’s the safest location and we’ll have one [rink] right there,” she said.
Pomrenke said that it isn’t as easy as just adopting policies from other municipalities.
“They’re in a very different climate,” he said.
“When you look at our rapid changes, we’re 30 degrees from New Year’s Day to today,” said Pomrenke.
That change in temperature can create fractures and fissures in the ice.
“The ice quality starts to diminish rapidly,” he said.
As temperatures increase, water can rush in from below the surface and has the potential to be turbulent and erode the ice.
Along with the potential for risk, Bustard said there are a lot of benefits in the community from skating on the pond.
Since moving to Kinniburgh three years ago, Bustard said she has watched as skating on the pond has become an important neighbourhood hub every winter.
“Everybody’s gotten together, we’ve actually gotten to meet neighbours just this winter from being down there at the pond,” said Bustard.
Every year, work to create the skating rinks has gotten bigger and consistently brings the neighbourhood together.
This year, there are five rinks cleared on the pond and one resident has built a bench for kids to put on their skates and some light standards for evening use of the ice.
“We’ve just seen how one guy will go down with his snow blower and clear off the ice and then another neighbour will be going down with his children so he’ll use the shovel and give it another cleaning,” she said of the community effort to maintain the rinks.
Pomrenke said that it isn’t the city’s intention to stifle the community spirit, they just want to see it directed to a safer place.
“The efforts that have been going in to create the rinks at Kinniburgh are incredible, but if we could move those to a safer environment…maybe there’s a solution there for residents and the city alike,” he said.
His hope is that the community can turn this perceived negative into something positive.
“It’s a great idea, I love that sense of community that residents are trying to achieve,” said Pomrenke, “I firmly believe it’s in the wrong place.”
There are other skating options in Chestermere including outdoor rinks at Anniversary Park, the recreation centre and St. Gabriel’s High School.
The rink at the high school, which part of the Adopt-A-Rink pilot project, could offer a solution for the community in Kinniburgh.
East Lake School is located close to the storm pond and could be a potential sight for another rink in the Adopt-A-Rink program.
While they are unconvinced of the level of danger posed by the pond, Bustard said that if a risk assessment comes back to show that the pond truly is unsafe for use, they would like to see appropriate remediation steps taken to protect the public, such as the installation of a fence.
Bustard said that if they can be given specific facts that the Kinniburgh pond is unsafe they’ll go to where it is, they just feel that the information they have been given is incomplete and too vague to convince them their pond is unsafe to skate on.