It’s hard to believe the 2011 wildfire was five and half years ago. As someone who has been involved in the recovery process, it is hard to believe just how far the town has come.
Council recently met to discuss future planning for our Town, and during that discussion the topic of recovery came up and after reflecting, we realized that most of the projects around the recovery process was completed. Often we don’t spend enough time celebrating our accomplishments our highlighting how far we have come, this is why I want take a minute to illustrate how much we, as a community, have accomplished.
In our town office things have been busy. Immediately after the fire we coordinated the cleanup of hundreds of damaged properties. With the help of the Province we brought in over 200 temporary homes and created subdivisions where forest and muskeg previously existed. In the past 5 years we have issued over 600 building permits and the work that goes into those files is immense.
The province stepped up and covered taxes for those affected which was amazing, the accounting and logistical work that was required was immense. We hired additional staff to help us carry out new tasks, trained them, and recently we had to figure out a way to demobilize them. Most of this was done in a temporary building as our building, offices, records, computers and some of our paper history were destroyed in the wildfire.
Each department had to overcome the difficulties of the fire, our finances were in rough shape – post wildfire. Through some staff vacancies and some outdated systems, we were due for a financial overhaul. Spending the last five years put much needed systems improvements in place, and we were able to put the right people in positions. I can say I have no issues with how well our financial team is running now. This is such a small footnote in all that we have done, but this alone was such an immense task.
As for emergency services, a lot happened as well. We had to replace damaged fire equipment, gear and trucks. We revamped our emergency plans, strengthened interagency co-operation. Invested in technology and training. We added back-up power generation, strengthened our ability to use radios, built a siren, and did a tonne of community education. We fine-tuned our emergency plan and we spent hundreds of hours training on it to ensure we are the best equipped emergency service in Canada.
We also took on the massive project of understanding what Firesmart is and how it should be done. We are now recognized in Canada as leaders in this field and are currently working with the Province to help train 4 more additional teams for the province as we currently have one of the only Firesmart teams in Canada.
On the infrastructure file, we rebuilt and enhanced our ball diamonds, rebuilt the berm on Highway 88 and rebuilt our town office and library. We created Fournier Place, which created a new subdivision and an additional housing option and price point that had not been available for some time in the Town. We punched through 6 Ave. SW improving transportation options and evacuation routes. Along with that work we added an additional evacuation route in the SE.
We took on a $2-million sewer clean up to deal with all the debris washed into our ponds and built another cell at the landfill and began dealing with the immense amount of waste. At the same time, we were completing renovations on the MRC, we ran into a structural issue at the pool which turned into a large undertaking. We also built the Legacy Centre and added a performing arts space and new daycare to our list of assets in the community.
If that’s not enough to look after, the town also coordinated a massive project in the SE immediately after the fire to move utilities, and do hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of lot grading to improve drainage. After we built hundreds of homes here. And to top it all off, the town did approximately $30 million dollars’ worth of road, sidewalk, water and sewer replacement throughout the SE and NW areas of town.
In the realm of Healthcare, we worked through the transition of incorporating the Family Care clinic. We recruited physicians, increased access to Physiotherapy, improved Tele-health, added almost half a million dollars’ worth of equipment to our hospital. We opened our operating rooms again and are seeing babies born in this community once again. We worked with Northern Lakes College to get a paramedic program going here and recruited a private ultrasound clinic.
We also gave out thousands of dollars worth of grants to help train local residents through courses and scholarships which would aid in enhancing health and wellness in this region.
Administraiton and Council also undertook the construction of a $27-million regional water upgrade; we completed upgrades at our water treatment plant, added additional transmission lines to put more potable water options to our neighbours in the MD and First Nations. We changed our water treatment process to reduce health risks and improve the quality of the water we were giving to residents. We intend to complete this project with the construction of an addition raw water line next year. This raw water line will reduce the risk to our water supply and ensure future generations have good access to quality raw water. This line will also improve firefighting capability west of Slave Lake in the Sawridge First Nation and west end of the MD.
We also took on projects like Economic Development. We built a program from the ground up. We created a regional brand, built a website, added videos and marketing materials. We took on a huge project of tourism and are assuming the visitor information services in 2017. We have been involved in large energy projects and small retail businesses that are both adding to the continued growth
in the region.
We strengthened our relationship with our Friends in the MD and created a strong relationship with Chief and Council of the First Nation where I believe none existed before. We took on housing projects and looked at recreational expansion and marinas. Economic Development continues to grow and be a focus of all three jurisdictions with a massive amount of work still needing to be done.
If this seems like a massive undertaking, I can assure you it is only a portion of the work we have done. I want to commend the patience and resiliency of the people of this region. I also want to applaud and commend our town staff. Not only the ones working for us now, but to the many who have left and were an integral part of our success along the way.
I want to thank the Provincial government for the support and finances which got us to this point in the recovery process. I also want to thank my fellow elected leaders who put in the time, and had the vision to get us where we are today. One thing is clear we are no longer the sleepy little area of the province.
We are a proud, strong, and dedicated people with a determined work ethic. We roll up our sleeves and take on any task. We are not happy with the status quo and we are constantly working as a region to make things better. I am very proud of who we are today, and thank all who helped get us to this point.
The future for Slave Lake looks bright and it’s exciting to know we are consistently moving onward and upward!
Congratulations Slave Lake, and the Slave Lake Region