Remains returning to Ponoka County

No formal proposal has been made but Ponoka County may see the return of the bones of 28 First Nations bodies to a closed cemetery

No formal proposal has been made but Ponoka County may see the return of the bones of 28 First Nations bodies to a closed cemetery on county land.

The bones, discovered in 1965, and stored at the University of Alberta, were found on three remnant, subdivided lots.

“We approved the subdivision, nice lots,” said assistant CAO Tom Webber. “In March of last year we received notification Her Majesty the Queen purchased them.”

A representative with Alberta Aboriginal Affairs has contacted Webber and another meeting was set for after Sept. 6 to further discuss the matter and how it could affect adjacent landowners.

“Not everybody is upset about this, they just want to know the scheme of this,” said Webber, referring to the extensiveness, layout and amenities of the cemetery.

CAO Charlie Cutforth wants county councillors to remain separate from all discussions for now because a rezoning application may have to be issued for the cemetery and he doesn’t want councillors to be biased.

“I think someone made an assumption of what our bylaw allows. Park space, recreation space is permitted use in CR (country residential) zoning but a cemetery isn’t,” said Webber.

Development agreement conflict

With one obstacle still in place, Ponoka County councillors are pushing for an acceptable arrangement regarding Rimbey’s Rimoka senior’s residences before election time.

“I’ve always said I want to see this before I die or get off council,” said Coun. Gawney Hinkley. He feels a new council won’t see the benefits of funnelling the money into Rimbey and will drop involvement in the project.

“It’ll be a dead horse if we get three (to) five new councillors,” he added.

Cutforth attended a meeting in Red Deer and spoke with lawyers about aspects of the revised agreement he’s still dissatisfied with for Ponoka County. “The only thing that is still out outstanding that isn’t acceptable to us obviously is if, for some reason, the facility did not proceed we, according to the agreement, lose our entire purchase price.”

Cutforth told council he doesn’t have a problem with a reasonable rate of interest and the county’s proposal included a buy back option at the same or negotiated price. “Apparently with the group that’s not acceptable.”

However, the county is no longer restricted by a timeline for developing the land; originally they were bound to five years.

“That’s the way it should be,” said Hinkley, who’s tired of the restrictions set by lawyers.

Cutforth says even without the timeline pushing development, the land isn’t going to be sold or repurposed. “They said it can go on in perpetuity.”

Coun. Paul McLauchlin believes, without the timeline, the county’s risk of the money is reduced.

Lagoon water transfer concerns

As Encana forges ahead with its plan to purchase and transfer water from Rimbey’s lagoon for fracking, landowners are becoming anxious.

“They’ve got a few of the locals riled up,” said Webber.

In conjunction with the fracking, Encana is building a 28-acre holding lagoon for the water, which has landowners and councillors talking about environmental safety and whether permits are needed.

“There’s been some concerns of the smell and groundwater safety,” said Webber. A synthetic liner is included in the lagoon development.

While the holding lagoon is unlicensed Ponoka County also doesn’t require farmers to purchase permits for their own lagoons, so long as they’re situated safe distances from other developments and roads.

The water is coming from the last stage of Rimbey’s lagoon and McLauchlin feels if Encana were to test the water they could prove it’s clean. “Unless they can prove it’s clean I consider it a sewage lagoon.”

“I’m sure Encana will comply but they’ll have to test the water before it leaves the town’s lagoon,” added Cutforth.

Encana’s lagoon will benefit both the Town of Rimbey and Ponoka County because they’ll no longer have to split the $600,000 outfall cost associated with the town’s lagoon.