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Tag: Laurie Tritschler

Man wearing dress shirt and tie with computer on his lap sits next to three AI robots wearing ties

Jasper AI versus local reporter

Artificial intelligence has been around for decades but it seems to be a topic everyone is talking about right now. I’ve been chatting with another newspaper publisher about opportunities and concerns when it comes to AI taking steps into the industry.

The use of AI by journalists, bloggers, novelists, poets, songwriters and kids who don’t care to do homework is not new — it’s been lurking around for about 60 years — but it is trending.

Technology already looks after many mundane tasks — Google Maps is one example and Siri another. Saying “Hey Siri, dial Mom” simplifies the process of making a call and it’s nice not to have to pull over to read a map in rush-hour traffic. 

If you take a look around, you’ll see just how surrounded we are by technology that makes things easier for us. Machines make decisions based on data, which, in some ways, could make them better decision makers. If nothing else, they can certainly be faster. 

 

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The ability of AI to tackle highly complex tasks and computations is one of its strengths. It can learn and make predictions, and optimize based on outcomes. 

In his article 15 Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence You Should Know, Mike Kaput lists automation of repetitive tasks, reduction of human error, completing tasks too dangerous for humans, better decision-making and problem-solving, cost savings, increased production and the ability to work 24 hours a day as pros to using AI.

“To experience the pros of AI, you need to have a clear, realistic understanding of its cons,” he says. These include the amount and quality of data AI has access to, the potential to make bad or harmful decisions, rationale behind decisions isn’t always provided, potential bias based on data provided, elimination of human jobs, unevenness of advancement in different fields means it doesn’t always deliver on promises, and it can be expensive.

I recently purchased a vacuum that incorporates AI with the hope it will spend more time sweeping up dog hair than me. I’m not averse to using technology in this manner although some would caution that its camera could be a spy.

 

 

Some also say that AI will continue to replace journalists. This is true to some degree, but I can’t imagine turning these pages over to a robot to fill.

I tested what AI could do in the newsroom and chose Jasper AI for the job. Touted on its website as “the #1 AI Copywriter,” it scours the web to find information to create a story for you. 

My experiment: Jasper versus Laurie (our civic affairs journalist) in creating an article.

The headline and first paragraph of Laurie’s page 2 story were provided to Jasper to base its own on, with the following result in about 10 seconds:

 

 

The Town of Pincher Creek is one step closer to having a new curling rink, after council narrowly approved the motion at the last meeting. The proposed rink would be built at the Community Recreation Centre on 942 Hyde Street and will be subject to a borrowing bylaw that must still pass before it can move forward. 

This new facility would provide recreational opportunities for the community and create a much-needed gathering space. It is estimated to cost around $2 million, with half of that money coming from grants, and the other half from local taxes. 

If everything goes according to plan, the Town of Pincher Creek could have an updated curling rink before the end of 2021. The project would create a number of jobs in the area and could help to stimulate the local economy. 

Mayor John Smith says, “This is an exciting opportunity for our community. We know that many people enjoy curling and this will provide them with a place to do it. This project has been a long time coming and we are looking forward to making it a reality.” 

 

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The Town of Pincher Creek is now in the process of developing a borrowing bylaw that would fund the construction. Once this is approved, work on the rink can begin. The Town Council is hopeful that this new addition to their community will help create an enjoyable environment for all.

This is a hands-down win for Laurie as the article is full of inaccurate information.

Jasper could possibly have a role in headline creation, SEO optimization, proofreading (to a degree) and idea generation, but is not reliable for creating community news stories.

As AI becomes more prominent, consider the trustworthiness of the source. I’ll take a human who lives in and cares about the community any day.

Ask Mayor Smith.

 

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Municipal enforcement badge, blue circle with green Town of Pincher Creek logo inside and red crown with yellow trim on top surrounded by green maple leaves

Pincher Creek transitioning from peace officers to bylaw officers

The Town of Pincher Creek is leaving Alberta’s community peace officer program following the departure of its two CPOs starting last October, according to Mayor Don Anderberg.

Municipal bylaws will be enforced by a dedicated bylaw officer as soon as town hall hires a suitable candidate. The town will also hire a full-time bylaw and safety co-ordinator to stay on top of training requirements and enforcement priorities, Lisa Goss, town hall’s head of legislative services, told Shootin’ the Breeze.

Goss said her office is reviewing applications, but qualified that the hiring process will take as long as needed.  

Pincher Creek participated in the CPO program for about 10 years, but recent changes to the town’s legislative obligations under the Peace Officer Act spurred council to reassess the program’s value after the former CPOs took jobs outside the municipality, Anderberg explained. 

 

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“It was getting a little onerous for us. We’re now focusing back on what we believe to be the core issues around bylaw enforcement,” he told the Breeze last Thursday.

The province runs the program through the Justice Ministry, while municipalities and other eligible agencies hire CPOs and set the limits of their authority, according to the program’s March 2022 policy and procedures manual.

Pincher Creek’s CPOs enforced municipal bylaws and some provincial laws, handling traffic violations through the Traffic Act, according to Anderberg and Goss. 

Anderberg said the CPOs’ broader focus sometimes came at the expense of local bylaw enforcement, noting that Pincher Creek RCMP have “really stepped up” local traffic enforcement. The town’s chief administrative officer was meanwhile required to sign off on CPOs’ paperwork as per the Peace Officer Act, which Anderberg said ate up time and resources.

 

 

“It was cumbersome [for administration] to manage the program. It certainly took time,” Goss elaborated.

She said town hall recommended transitioning back to bylaw officers after reviewing enforcement strategies taken by the MD, Cowley, Crowsnest Pass, Cowley and Cardston County. 

Fort Macleod left the program three years ago, citing the province’s “downloading” of policing costs onto small municipalities starting in 2020, according to a press release on the town’s website. 

Crowsnest Pass has stayed in the program, and now employs three CPOs to handle traffic and enforce municipal bylaws, according to a spokesperson for the municipality.

Pincher Creek’s new bylaw officer will have a working relationship with Pincher Creek RCMP.  

The town’s former CPOs left separately last October and December, Goss said.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

 

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Wrecking ball and light-coloured brick wall with hole knocked out

Pincher Creek to demolish old RCMP building

Town council has voted to tear down Pincher Creek’s former RCMP headquarters at 659 Main St.

A previous council funded the project in its 2020 operating budget, but demolition was put on hold when the Government of Alberta asked town hall to use municipal buildings for a Covid-19 testing centre, according to a staff report attached to council’s Feb. 13 agenda. 

Budget 2023 includes $200,000 for demolition, meaning the project won’t come at extra costs to taxpayers. 

Pincher Creek RCMP left the building when their Hunter Street headquarters opened in 2008. A number of organizations have since rented space, including the McMann Youth Family and Community Services Association and the Pincher Creek food bank. 

 

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Speaking at chambers Feb. 13, Mayor Don Anderberg broadly suggested that the building site could be used for housing development.

“This is probably one of the primary places that we could put shovels in the ground rather quickly,” Anderberg told council, noting that the town owns some of the surrounding property.

The building is too far gone to be refurbished, he continued. 

Apart from needing a new roof, windows and a ventilation system, the building has “foundation issues” and contains asbestos, the staff report notes.

 

 

Council unanimously approved demolition, following a motion by Coun. Brian Wright. 

Council has not yet awarded a contract for the project.

 

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Semi with orange cab drives on Highway 3 near Crowsnest Pass

Crowsnest Pass council discusses Highway 3 twinning

Crowsnest Pass municipal council wants to address residents’ concerns about twinning Highway 3 when councillors meet with Transportation Ministry officials at March’s Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention in Edmonton.

Mayor Blair Painter, who sits on the non-profit Highway 3 Twinning Development Association (H3TDA), added the issue to council’s Feb. 14 agenda, prompting a frank discussion about the project’s economic and traffic safety benefits for the municipality. 

“I’ve heard a lot of comments from people wanting to talk about Highway 3, which leads me to the point where I believe that our community wants to have this come back to Alberta Transportation for further discussion,” Painter told council.

 

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H3TDA has advocated for the project for more than 20 years, according to a December 2022 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) report commissioned by the association.  

Former premier Jason Kenney committed in 2020 to twinning the highway between Taber and Burdett at an estimated cost of $150 million, telling Albertans that shovels would go in the ground in the spring of 2021.

Construction on that span of the highway is now slated to begin this spring, while the province announced last November that it plans to twin the rest of the highway within 10 years.

Painter has long supported the project, and Crowsnest Pass’s 2020 municipal development plan states that “Ultimately, the improved corridor will facilitate positive economic growth in the community and increase safety and mobility for the public.” 

 

 

The MDP further states that “The [province’s] recent confirmation of the highway expansion and realignment project equips decision-makers with the certainty needed to make land-use decisions moving forward.” 

With the reality settling in, residents are starting to worry that the project might bypass the municipality altogether, Painter told Shootin’ the Breeze

The PwC study says the project would yield around $1.5 billion in provincewide spending on one-off construction costs, plus around $400,000 in annual maintenance costs between the Fort Macleod bypass and Sentinel. Regional highway maintenance would create an estimated three full-time jobs between Pincher Creek and Sentinel, while hugely benefiting southwestern Alberta’s agricultural, tourism, mining and renewable energy sectors. 

The study also found that twinning the highway would significantly cut down on head-on collisions by allowing motorists to safely pass slow-moving vehicles. 

 

 

A December 2019 planning study by the engineering firm ISL says the twinned highway would function as “a four-lane freeway” linked to Pass communities through interchanges at Allison Creek Road, Blairmore, Frank, and Bellevue-Hillcrest. The study further recommends another local access point through an underpass at Passburg. 

“In the ultimate freeway condition, no other direct highway access will be available for any use, including residential access, business access or field access. All existing highway access, including community access, will need to be directed to the local road network to the ultimate interchange locations,” the study notes. 

ISL’s study acknowledges that “previous highway [3] realignments have bypassed” Blairmore, Bellevue and Hillcrest. 

Painter said Coleman was also bypassed in the 1980s. 

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Speaking at chambers on Feb. 14, Painter reminded councillors that “We’ve all lived here long enough to remember what happened to our commercial areas.”

Speaking to the Breeze 10 days later, Painter noted that local traffic is already much safer thanks to four traffic lights that went up along municipal stretches of Highway 3 roughly a year and a half ago. (The PwC study notes that highway collisions were 1.5 times higher on untwinned highway sections between 2014 and 2018, based on period data from the Government of Alberta).

The lights also make it easier for tourists and residents to directly access Crowsnest Pass’s communities, Painter added. 

The mayor said up to 25 properties and businesses might have to be expropriated to accommodate highway expansion through parts of Frank. 

 

 

The ISL study was less specific, noting, “The community of Frank is anticipated to be a challenging area for land acquisition given the residential properties and active businesses impacted by the recommended plan.” 

The mayor also told the Breeze that the project risks disturbing the west side of the historic Frank Slide, which is considered a graveyard. 

Bill Chapman, president of H3TDA, says the association hears Painter’s concerns “loud and clear.”  

H3TDA strongly supported Painter’s initiative to install Crowsnest Pass’s highway traffic lights, and remains committed to “achieving a balance” that supports rich economic growth for the province and the Pass, Chapman continued.

 

 

The province may decide to expropriate some properties in Frank, but Chapman noted that ISL “very clearly” stressed the need to protect the graveyard section of the slide. 

H3TDA and the province have hosted local stakeholders at multiple public forums, with Alberta Transportation officials meeting with councils from Crowsnest Pass, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and the Village of Cowley four times between June 2017 and November 2018, according to the ISL study. 

Mayor Painter said he’s looking forward to confirming a meeting with Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen at next month’s RMA convention.

 

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Mined mountainside with greenery in foreground and blue water pond

‘Winds of change’ bring renewable energy project to Tent Mountain

Peter Doyle, CEO at Montem Resources Ltd., said the company plans to sell half of its stake in the Tent Mountain site to the Calgary-based electricity wholesaler TransAlta Corp. TransAlta will lead the development of a 320-megawatt pumped hydrogen energy storage facility on the mountain.

The Tent Mountain Renewable Energy Complex (TM-REX) will be powered by an off-site wind farm that will feed into a new transmission line, Blain van Melle, TransAlta’s vice-president, told Shootin’ the Breeze in a Feb. 24 video conference with Doyle. The project meanwhile envisions an off-site hydrolyzer that will generate “14,000 tonnes each year of clean, green hydrogen.

“This is the equivalent of displacing 50 million litres of diesel each year, or taking 2,000 heavy trucks off our highways,” Doyle says in a promotional video on Montem’s website. 

Doyle and van Melle declined to specify where the companies might build the wind farm or the hydrolyzer. 

With plans still in the distant offing, Doyle said Montem has been in talks with the Piikani Nation, which he said “has aspirations to build a significant wind farm.” 

 

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“Anything that we do on [the wind farm] is most likely going to be in unison with either Piikaani by itself, or the entire Blackfoot confederacy,” he told the Breeze

Van Melle said it’s for the Alberta Electric System Operator, the non-profit company that manages Alberta’s electricity grid, to determine the transmission line’s exact specifications. 

Montem said in a Feb. 17 press release that the project would create about 200 construction jobs and about 30 permanent jobs after TM-REX comes online. 

Doyle said the Tent Mountain mine, unreclaimed since it was abandoned in 1983, had roughly enough capacity to produce one million tonnes of metallurgical coal every year for 13 years, whereas TM-REX will generate emissions-free energy for up to 80 years. 

Peter Loughheed’s Progressive Conservative government halted coal exploration along the eastern Rockies in 1976 because the slopes feed environmentally sensitive headwaters. 

 

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The United Conservatives under Premier Jason Kenney announced in the spring of 2020 that they would lift the ban, but quickly reversed course when the initiative provoked strong opposition. 

Doyle said Montem realized “the winds of change were blowing” in 2021, when Ottawa asked for an environmental assessment for the proposed reboot of the Tent Mountain coal mine. The Alberta Energy Regulator then rejected Benga Mines’ (another Australian coal company’s) application to reboot an open-pit mine on nearby Grassy Mountain, stating that the project wasn’t in the public interest.

At that point, Doyle said, “It became increasingly clear that there was too high a risk to continue with the [Tent Mountain] coal mine.” 

The mountain’s coal deposits will be “sterilized,” Doyle said, using an industry term that means the hydrocarbons will stay in-ground. 

Doyle and van Melle said Montem and TransAlta would continue to meet with Pass stakeholders moving forward. 

Doyle said he expects Montem’s shareholders will approve the TM-REX sale in late March or early April.

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Baby with bright blue eyes has face scrunched up in reaction to stinky smell

Chemical spill stinks up Pincher Creek

A small chemical spill cast a noxious stink over the east side of Pincher Creek on Sunday morning, according to Pincher Creek Emergency Services.

A spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator said about 100 litres of petroleum distillate, a strong-smelling precursor to gasoline, was spilled in three spots between a bulk fuel station on the 1000 block of Main Street and Highway 6, starting at around 9:30 a.m.

No one was hurt and the spill did not reach any waterways, PCES Chief Pat Neumann told Shootin’ the Breeze

The distillate leaked from a fuel truck coming from the former Shell Waterton gas plant near Twin Butte, according to a statement Monday from Plains Midstream Canada, a Calgary-based firm that provides logistical support to oil and gas companies. 

The company said it’s investigating the cause and exact volume of the spill. 

 

 

“Our priorities are to protect the safety of everyone in the area and minimize any impacts to the environment. We have completed initial surface clean up, offloaded the product from the trailer, and safely removed the truck and trailer from the area,” the statement continued. 

Neumann said the truck driver “did everything proactively as soon as he realized what was going on,” driving to nearby Pincher Station, where he set about containing the leak. 

PCES contacted Transport Canada’s emergency centre, CANUTEC, and then joined cleanup efforts led by the fuel transport company.

“The cleanup is already substantively wrapped up” at each of the three spill sites, Neumann said.

Plains Midstream thanked PCES for their prompt response, telling the Breeze, “We are continuing to work with PCES to monitor air quality and conduct further remediation, as required.”

 

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Fire truck parked on highway surrounded by vehicles in swirling snow after a multi-vehicle crash near Pincher Creek.

Two hospitalized after at least eight vehicles collide at Cowley

Pincher Creek RCMP are investigating a series of multiple-vehicle collisions on Highway 3 between Pincher Station and Cowley, according to Sgt. Ryan Hodge.

Hodge confirmed there were a few injuries among motorists involved in four collisions reported near Pincher Station between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday.

First responders closed Highway 3 near Cowley at around 10 a.m. Thursday, following a second series of collisions. 

Hodge said it wasn’t clear exactly how many vehicles were involved in either smash-up as of Thursday afternoon.

 

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Pat Neumann, chief of Pincher Creek Emergency Services, said at least eight vehicles were involved in the Cowley pileup, including multiple tractor-trailers.

Neumann said two people were taken to hospital with moderate injuries. One was treated in Pincher Creek hospital and later transferred to Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, while the other was taken to Crowsnest Pass hospital, then airlifted to a Calgary hospital.

PCES on Wednesday evening attended a single-vehicle rollover on a stretch of Highway 22 near Lundbreck and a multiple-vehicle collision on Highway 6 near Pincher Creek, Neumann said.

 

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Hodge said charges are expected against drivers believed to be responsible for some of the pileups, as per Alberta’s Traffic and Safety Act, advising that the detachment’s investigation could last through the weekend. 

What is clear is that many drivers aren’t driving to winter highway conditions, which Hodge said are notoriously treacherous between Pincher Station and Crowsnest Pass. 

Snowdrifts had crept onto Highway 3 at Pincher Station by late Wednesday afternoon, but responding officers reported adequate visibility. Neumann said the highway was slippery near Cowley Thursday morning, adding that blowing snow had reduced visibility.

 

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“People aren’t slowing down. They aren’t driving to road conditions,” Hodge said. 

Mounties don’t believe drugs or alcohol were involved in any of the collisions they attended, he said. 

Pincher Creek RCMP strongly recommend that drivers use caution on Highway 3. 

“When you see a snowdrift on the highway, slow down and wait until it’s safe to drive around it,” Hodge said.

 

 

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Emergency workers work on an evening accident scene on icy roads near Pincher Station

Charges may await some drivers in Highway 3 pileups

Pincher Creek RCMP are investigating a series of multiple-vehicle collisions on Highway 3 between Pincher Station and Cowley, according to Sgt. Ryan Hodge.

Hodge confirmed a few minor injuries among motorists involved in four collisions reported near Pincher Station between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday.

First responders closed Highway 3 near Cowley at around 11 a.m. Thursday, following a second series of collisions. 

Hodge said it wasn’t clear how many vehicles were involved in either smash-up as of Thursday afternoon. Mounties left the highway at about noon, he said. 

Charges are expected against drivers believed to be responsible for some of the pileups, as per Alberta’s Traffic and Safety Act, with Hodge advising that the Mounties’ investigation could last through the weekend.

 

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What is clear is that many drivers aren’t driving to winter highway conditions, which Hodge said are notoriously treacherous between Pincher Station and Crowsnest Pass. 

Snowdrifts had crept onto the highway at Pincher Station by late Wednesday afternoon, but responding officers said visibility was decent.

“People aren’t slowing down,” Hodge said. “They aren’t driving to road conditions.” 

Mounties don’t believe drugs or alcohol were involved in any of the collisions, he said. 

Pat Neumann, chief at Pincher Creek Emergency Services, wasn’t immediately available for comment before Shootin’ the Breeze filed this story online Thursday afternoon. 

Pincher Creek RCMP strongly recommend that drivers use caution on Highway 3. 

“When you see a snowdrift on the highway, slow down and wait until it’s safe to drive around it,” Hodge said.

 

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Fire truck parked on highway surrounded by vehicles in swirling snow after a multi-vehicle crash near Pincher Creek.

Multi-vehicle pile-up closes Highway 3 at Cowley

First responders have shut down Highway 3 near the Village of Cowley following a multiple-car pile-up.
Pincher Creek Emergency Services announced the closure shortly before 11 a.m., citing the need to protect service members.

Details are sparse at this point, and Shootin’ the Breeze is awaiting comment from PCES Chief Pat Neumann as well as Pincher Creek RCMP.

PCES reported a multi-car collision on the highway at Pincher Station late Wednesday night. Shootin’ the Breeze is awaiting comment on that incident as well.

Emergency Services are recommending that motorists avoid Highway 3 between Pincher Station and Cowley.

Updated story available

 

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Highway leading toward mountains with fields filled with wind turbines

Concerns raised over TransAlta’s Riplinger project

A proposed wind farm in Cardston County is facing opposition from a group of residents who say the project threatens the region’s sensitive environment and that their voices are being ignored as the project approaches the regulatory phase. 

The project, dubbed Riplinger by Calgary electricity wholesaler TransAlta, has meanwhile drawn the attention of Pincher Creek’s MD, where the company will likely seek to build a transmission line, according to an information package sent last December to county residents within 1.5 kilometres of the project’s tentative boundaries. 

The Riplinger farm would generate power from 46 wind turbines on 14,000 acres of private land roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Pincher Creek, the package states. James Mottershead, spokesman for TransAlta, later told Shootin’ the Breeze the project would involve 50 turbines. 

Mottershead said TransAlta “introduced” Riplinger to the MD in May 2022, though the company has not filed an application with the Alberta Utilities Commission, which has broad authority to approve utility projects. 

 

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Many people who attended TransAlta’s public information session in Cardston County’s village of Hill Spring last Friday were asked to sign a petition circulated by Riplinger’s opponents. 

“This is the wrong place for a wind farm,” Bill Merry said as locals steadily filed into the village community centre.

Merry said he was frustrated that TransAlta “has done absolutely the bare minimum in communicating with the project’s stakeholders,” many of whom Merry said live beyond Riplinger’s 1.5-kilometre radius. 

“It’s like they’re trying to shove this under the rug,” he added. 

Angela Tabak, who lives in the nearby hamlet of Mountain View, said she’d been networking with residents within the project radius, who can intervene if they notify the AUC that they will be directly and adversely affected by Riplinger. 

Merry and Tabak said they hoped for a public hearing where TransAlta would be called to show its plans to protect migratory birds and other wildlife species, as well as the wetlands between the Waterton and Belly rivers. Fifty people had signed the petition roughly an hour after doors opened at the community centre. 

 

 

Speaking to MD councillors at chambers on Feb. 14, Reeve Rick Lemire held up TransAlta’s information package, which outlines a host of federal and provincial bodies that will enter the regulatory process ahead of the MD and Cardston County. 

 “This is where we fit into the hierarchy of approvals — when everything else is done,” he told council. 

The AUC can approve utility projects over the objections of local governments, according to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.

“The commission takes into account local governments’ positions on projects, both when they support a project and when they oppose a project. It is incredibly helpful to the commission for municipalities to participate in the AUC’s decision-making process,” AUC spokesman Geoff Scotton told the Breeze.

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, takes a different view. 

The AUC “ignores municipal planning authority on a regular basis,” he said earlier this month. “They actually institutionally ignore it.”

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

McLauchlin said renewable energy will play a critical role in southwestern Alberta’s economic future, adding that many food producers have welcomed projects like Riplinger because developers typically pay well to lease private land. That money spurs investment in ranches and farms, but McLauchlin warned that unchecked development on arable land would jeopardize regional food security. 

James Van Leeuwen, who heads a power company in Pincher Creek and sits on the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative’s board of directors, said Riplinger would be “unremarkable” if it weren’t tentatively sited near the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, an environmentally sensitive area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1979. 

“Waterton is an ecological gem,” he said.

Van Leeuwen participated in SASCI’s 2018 regional economic study, which was commissioned by Shell Canada, the Town of Pincher Creek and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, shortly after Shell announced it would probably shutter its Waterton gas plant (Shell Waterton) by 2030. 

Shell Waterton employed about 100 people when SASCI published its findings. Most lived in the town of Pincher Creek, while the plant generated about 20 per cent of tax revenue in the surrounding MD.

The study found that Shell Waterton generated 10 per cent of regional GDP, which renewable energy projects can’t match.

 

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Van Leeuwen noted that renewable energy projects might pose similar environmental impacts at the construction phase, especially because concrete and steel bear heavy carbon footprints. 

“But that’s not the point,” Van Leeuwen said. “What we’re looking at are the impacts over the lifetime of the infrastructure and for renewable energy.… We’re displacing a high-impact energy source with a low environmental impact energy source.”

Speaking at last Friday’s info session in Hill Spring, James Mottershead said TransAlta hasn’t finalized plans for Riplinger, including the proposed transmission line. 

Ryan Desrosiers, an environmental consultant retained by TransAlta, said the line would probably come through the MD. Transmission lines are regulated by the AUC in conjunction with the Alberta Electric System Operator, according to Geoff Scotton. 

Desrosiers said TransAlta hopes to host an information session in the MD sometime this spring. 

TransAlta hopes to submit its application for Riplinger to the AUC by June, according to Mottershead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Keyboard with large, orange key with pause written in white letters

MD of Pincher Creek hits pause on rezoning applications

Pincher Creek’s MD is pausing recreational development pending a review of the district’s land use bylaw.

Council voted last month to put off decisions on all rezoning applications for rural recreational development through the end of June, or until council updates the MD’s land use bylaw. The resolution, tabled by deputy reeve Tony Bruder, follows a recent spate of applications by residents and outside entrepreneurs hoping to launch tourist ventures on MD ranchlands, especially campgrounds. 

Ranchers who opposed a rezoning bid by the Waterton outfitter Blak Star Globes had called for a rezoning freeze at a public hearing last November. 

Council voted down Blak Star’s application in December, but approved a broadly similar rezoning at the same meeting. 

“The perception was that we were picking winners and losers,” Reeve Rick Lemire told Shootin’ the Breeze on Feb 8.

 

 

Lemire said the MD has heard from a number of hopeful rural recreational developers since the new year, prompting council to take a beat while it hashes out a consistent policy framework. 

Council had planned to update its land use bylaw, which outlines zoning, as part of its upcoming strategic plan — a long-term priority, according to Lemire.  

Seven rezoning applications came through council in 2022, five of which were approved, according to MD spokeswoman Jessica McClelland. 

“We decided that we couldn’t wait,” Lemire said. 

Council sat down for an initial review of its land use bylaw last week, drawing on the advice of Gavin Scott, a planning consultant with the Oldman River Regional Services Commission

The Covid-19 pandemic thrashed Alberta’s tourist economy, plunging tourist spending from $8.2 billion in 2019 to $4.9 billion in 2020 — a 43 per cent decrease, according to Travel Alberta. 

 

 

But the industry is recovering — tourist spending hit $5.7 billion in 2021 — in part because pandemic travel restrictions inadvertently drew Albertans to camping spots in the Pincher Creek area. 

“There’s going to be lots of rezoning applications coming, so we need to look at them with a refreshed perspective,” Lemire said, explaining that council went through a similar process when windmills started to crop up in the MD.  

“We did a study that showed us where we wanted windmills to go and where we didn’t want them to go. So, we’re doing something similar here for campgrounds.” 

Developers can still file rezoning applications in the interim, but a staff report appended to council’s Jan. 13 agenda notes that “Council has the right to refuse them at first reading.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profile of Trevor Hay, a man with short grey hair, wearing a black jacket, speaks into a microphone while addressing Crowsnest Pass council.

Crowsnest Pass to seek legal advice on Blairmore subdivision

The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is seeking legal advice after a resident asked to build a road through his proposed subdivision before putting up a security deposit.

Trevor Hay, who hopes to build homes for his family atop Blairmore’s Greenwood Heights, says the project has been held up since 2010 because he can’t afford the deposit and construction costs at the same time.

“There’s a very real human component that’s significant in order to completely understand this situation,” Hay told council Jan. 13. He’d hoped to build a home for himself and his wife and to give lots to their three adult children.

“This should’ve been one of the most exciting and fulfilling times of our lives,” he said. “Instead, it’s been like a recurring nightmare.”

 

 

Council’s subdivision policy (2006-02) requires that developers put up the full estimated costs to build civic amenities through a subdivision — including public roads — before breaking ground. Security deposits keep municipalities off the hook should these amenities fail in the two years after construction, Patrick Thomas, Crownest Pass’s chief administrative officer, explained at council’s regular meeting Feb. 7. 

Hay wants to put down a 25 per cent security deposit after the municipality signs off on the road through Greenwood Heights. The municipality would close the road to the public and block the subdivision if the road were to fail inspection. 

“It would stay a private road through (an undivided) private property,” Thomas said, adding that Hay’s 25 per cent would safeguard the municipality’s interests. 

 

 

Council unanimously approved a two-year extension for Hay’s project, but set aside his request for a smaller security deposit. 

“My biggest concern is that this will set a precedent moving forward,” Mayor Blair Painter said. 

Coun. Dean Ward drew on the example of a Blairmore development that went bust 15 years ago, which council had to buy back at taxpayers’ expense. 

“I’m not talking about (Hay’s) development, specifically. But, it’s not our job to just look after the safety of the municipality. It’s also to look after the safety of all our residents,” Ward said, cautioning that hilltop construction can put underlying homes at risk of flooding. 

 

 

“How many times do you hear about unintended consequences?” Ward asked, echoing Painter’s concerns about setting a potentially dangerous precedent.

Speaking to the public perception that recent councils have been overly cautious, Coun. Vicki Kubik said, “If we sit here tonight with a bit of trepidation, it’s for a good reason.” 

Coun. Lisa Sygutek then tabled a motion calling for legal advice from the municipality’s legal team. 

“Are we willing to go down this road?” she asked. “Because once we’ve opened up this box, every developer is going to come to us asking for the same thing.” 

 

 

Council unanimously passed Sygetuk’s motion. 

Hay defended his position when council opened the floor, stressing that he was “very sensitive to the issue of flooding.” 

Three engineering surveys have shown that a properly built road would improve drainage atop Greenwood Heights as much as 85 per cent, he said. 

Mayor Painter thanked Hay for his input and said council would revisit the issue of his security deposit at a later date.

 

 

 

 

RCMP Sgt. Ryan Hodge speaks into a microphone at Pincher Creek town council

RCMP patrols in Pincher Creek to be scaled back

A policy change by Alberta RCMP (K Division) will shave an hour off Pincher Creek Mounties’ regular patrols, likely at a cost to the town, according to Sgt. Ryan Hodge.

“It will specifically impact our detachment,” Hodge told town council on Feb. 13. 

K Division announced the policy a week earlier, citing the need to protect Mounties’ safety, he explained. Pincher Creek RCMP will either scale back regular patrols by an hour in the early morning or start patrols an hour later, he added. 

Coun. Mark Barber asked if this would increase the town’s annual policing costs, now budgeted at over $200,000. 

“I believe there will be a cost increase,” Hodge answered.

 

 

The new scheduling policy will not take away from the detachment’s ability to police the community, and may increase the number of officer shifts, Hodge explained.

Hodge said he hoped to explain the policy change and hear from town residents more generally at an open house before the town’s police advisory committee meets on March 15.

The detachment is currently at full strength, Hodge said.

The United Conservative Party under former premier Jason Kenney voted to phase in policing costs to Albertan municipalities under 5,000 residents starting in 2020. 

 

 

Pincher Creek’s new policing budget has steadily risen from $74,000 in 2020 to just over $217,000 in 2023, according to finance director Wendy Catonio. 

Premier Danielle Smith, who succeeded Kenney last fall, instructed Justice Minister Tyler Shandro in a Nov. 8 letter to “finalize a decision on establishing an Alberta Police Service,” but Public Safety Minister Ellis said no decision had been made as of the new year.

K Division wasn’t immediately available for comment when Shootin’ the Breeze went to press Tuesday.

 

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Woman with long grey, pulled-back hair, and wearing a green turtle-neck sweater is holding an old, framed photo of an RCMP officer, accepts a medal from a grey-haired man in glasses. Shannon Culham and Harold Hollingshead

Dave Friesen first investigated residential school in 1950s

The following story mentions sexual abuse at an Indian Residential School. The IRS term is used merely to reflect the relevant historical context.

Shootin’ the Breeze uses the term “Indigenous” to refer to Canada’s First Peoples in general. It is the policy of this paper to refer to First Peoples by their ancestral names wherever possible.

Help is always available for IRS survivors at the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program’s toll free number: 1-800-721-0066.

The MD of Pincher Creek posthumously honoured an extraordinary Albertan at an emotional ceremony at district chambers on Jan. 24.

Dave Friesen, who passed away in June 2022, was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal in December for his tireless investigation of sexual abuse at an Indian residential school in northern British Columbia starting in the late 1950s.

Friesen’s daughter, Shannon Culham, and her husband, Gord, attended the second service when council separately commemorated his legacy last week.

“Today’s medal recipient led rather than wait to be led,” Coun. Harold Hollingshead said, his voice breaking as he recalled his friend’s single efforts on behalf of Kaska Dena boys who survived “dehumanizing” abuse after they were forced to attend the Lower Post Residential School.

 

Shannon Culham holds a picture of her late father, Dave Friesen, as MD of Pincher Creek Coun. Harold Hollingshead presents her with Friesen’s Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal on Jan. 24. Pictured in back are Couns. Tony Bruder, left, and Dave Cox, and Reeve Rick Lemire. Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

The school was funded by the federal government and run by Catholic missionaries based in White Horse, Yukon, according to the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. As the Globe and Mail’s Patrick White reported in December 2021, Friesen faced countless hurdles as he tried to bring down the school’s lay brother and serial sexual predator, Ben Garand, derisively known as “Backdoor Benny.”  

Friesen couldn’t have known it at the time, but he was the only Mountie to formally investigate residential school abuse until the 1980s. Garand died in prison before he could be tried for his crimes at Lower Post, but Friesen went to great lengths to testify about what he knew when survivors sued the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church in the early 1990s.

 

 

Decades later, Hollingshead hit on these and other of Friesen’s works as Culham wept softly in her seat.

“Dave understood that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wanted to bring us to a place where the cycle can be broken and trust can be renewed,” he said. “Dave’s first steps to take us from where we were to where we stand today will not be forgotten.” 

“He was a trailblazer,” Culham later told Shootin’ the Breeze at her family home near Cowley. 

“The Jubilee was a great honour,” but Culham said her dad especially valued his gift from the Kaska Dena — a pair of moccasins handmade by Deputy Chief Harlan Schilling.

“The message was clear: He walked in their shoes,” she said.

 

Shannon Culham, a woman with long, grey, pulled-back hair and wearing a grey and white sweater, smiles wistfully against a backdrop of snow-covered foothills.
Shannon Culham met with Shootin’ the Breeze at her family home near Cowley, AB. Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

 

 

Culham was very young when her dad started looking into Garand. “I never knew about Lower Post until later on,” she said, adding, “I think he never shared it with us because he didn’t want to change our perspective on things.”

The RCMP transferred Friesen to Indigenous communities in northern B.C., the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, where, Culham said, “the RCMP weren’t the law. The church was.”

Mounties came and went through places like Watson Lake (near Lower Post) or Coppermine, N.W.T. (now Kugluktuk, Nunavut), or the 20 other detachments where Friesen served. Priests stayed, often for decades.

Friesen helped where and when he could.

When he found out the Anglican church in Coppermine tightly controlled the hamlet’s only hockey skates, he spearheaded an equipment drive and taught local boys how to play Canada’s national sport. 

When Catholic priests called on Friesen to arrest boys who’d skipped a flight bound for a residential school to the south, Friesen wryly asked if the church would pay for it.

When, predictably, they said no, Friesen quipped, “Well, then, I’m not going to arrest them.”

 

 

Friesen often wondered why families never reported the abuse at Lower Post. As he found out later, parents and survivors were bullied, threatened and closely watched by the church and its enablers.

The Kaska Dena burned Lower Post’s hulking remains to the ground in the summer of 2021. The First Nation plans to open a learning centre at the site, part of which Culham said would be dedicated to her father. 

She and her family will be there when the centre opens later this year.

“That means so much more to me than the Jubilee,” she said. 

Lower Post closed down in 1975, roughly 20 years after Friesen told school administrators about the abuse that was happening on their watch. 

As of May 2022, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation had recorded the names of 4,130 Indigenous children known to have died at residential schools across Canada.

 

Roger Reid, man with short dark hair, mustache and beard, smiles and shakes hands with Shannon Culham, woman with grey, pulled-back hair who is holding an old, framed photo of RCMP officer Dave Friesen and a medal
Shannon officially accepted her father’s Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medal from Livingstone Macleod MLA Roger Reid at a ceremony held at Claresholm in December.
Photo by William Cockerell

 

An earlier article about Dave Friesen’s experiences published by Shootin’ the Breeze can be read here and his obituary can be viewed here.

 

 

 

 

Read more from the Breeze:

Accused drunk driver charged in crash that killed his son

 

 

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Male with short, dark hair and woman with dark dark hair and cap, stand in front of an ambulance. Both are dressed in navy blue uniforms. Pat Neumann is the Pincher Creek fire chief and Sariah Brasnett is deputy-chief.

Wait times at urban hospitals tying up Pincher Creek ambulances

Increasing wait times at urban hospitals are delaying treatments for patients transferred by Pincher Creek Emergency Services’ ambulance crews and tying up paramedics, PCES Chief Pat Neumann told Shootin’ the Breeze.

Neumann said PCES crews have long experienced these delays at Calgary hospitals, especially at Foothills Medical Centre, which Neumann said handles most of the cardiac emergencies, advanced heart treatments and diagnostics, and complex traumas within Alberta Health Services’ south zone.

But similar bottlenecks have hit the Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, which also takes routine and emergency patients from Pincher Creek and surrounding areas, and where Neumann said PCES crews have consistently reported emergency room delays since last summer. 

“Lethbridge is terrible now” for wait times, Neumann said.

“It’s to a point where, unless they actually are admitting the patient to the ER right away, (PCES crews) are typically waiting every time they go now.”

 

 

A return trip to Calgary will tie up a PCES ambulance crew for at least five hours, with crews spending at least three hours on trips to and from Lethbridge, the chief explained.

The department has two ambulances. When one has to travel to and from Calgary or Lethbridge, “That only leaves one ambulance in this community to do any other urgent transfers going out of this area, or to respond to any other emergency call,” Neumann said. 

Longer waits are the norm when urban hospitals increasingly provide routine treatment and diagnostics for rural patients. At the same time, Neumann said his crews now attend calls from town residents struggling to access primary care.

“We’re picking people up that are going to the (Pincher Creek) Health Centre because they don’t have a doctor. They don’t know what else to do to get the services they need.” 

 

 

 

Patients are showing up at the health centre sicker than they might have been if they’d had regular care from a family doctor, and the problem “compounds itself” as the hospital’s doctors and nurses scramble to fill the gap, Neumann explained. 

Six doctors now work at the health centre and its attached medical clinic, down from 11 several years ago, according to the clinic’s executive director, Jeff Brockmann. (Dr. Gavin Parker manages the health centre’s ER.)

Local ambulance calls have more than doubled since Neumann started at PCES roughly 20 years ago, with hospital transfers up by a similar margin. Crews that responded to just under 750 calls in 2005 were handling over 1,500 in 2018. Transfers meanwhile climbed from around 350 to just over 600 in the same period, according to PCES statistics. 

 

 

The town’s population held at around 3,700 for much of that time, but shrank to around 3,400 by 2021, according to the Government of Alberta’s online regional dashboard. 

Just over 25 per cent of residents are 65 or older — a slight proportional increase over 2016, according to Statistics Canada’s 2021 census. As Neumann suggested, the town isn’t getting bigger — it’s getting older.

In response, Health Minister Jason Copping said the Alberta government is investing in rural health care. 

Copping said at a media roundtable Monday that the province had put up $1 million to explore options to train doctors at the University of Lethbridge and nearby Northwestern Polytechnic. 

 

 

“We recognize that we need to train and hire locally, and by getting those seats out in rural Alberta, the more likely that (graduating doctors) are going to stay,” he said.

Copping stressed that Alberta’s United Conservative Party provided many more millions in budget 2022, including the UCP’s new collective agreement with Alberta’s doctors. 

The province further hopes to attract foreign doctors by “leveraging immigration.” Seventeen doctors from outside Canada have agreed to work in Lethbridge, with some already working there. 

“I can tell you more is coming.… So, stay tuned,” Copping said. 

 

 

Pincher Creek town councillors and administration sit at chambers table and one is on-screen, attending virtually. Four have hands raised, voting in favour of new curling rink plan.

Pincher Creek to build new curling rink, pending borrowing bylaw

The motion, tabled by Coun. Mark Barber, triggered a lengthy deliberation at chambers Monday, drawing input from all six councillors and Mayor Don Anderberg as they weighed the project against the town’s acute, chronic housing shortage, the potential tax increase to pay for the build, and the state of the existing facilities at the CRC. 

Council several times acknowledged the long-running contributions by the local curling club, which has long operated the current curling rink at 837 Main Street at its own expense. 

Council set aside $1.25 million of the estimated $4 million build in its 2023 capital budget. The remaining $2.75 million will be funded by a long-term loan, pending council’s upcoming vote on a borrowing bylaw, which will be the subject of a public hearing. 

Speaking in favour of Barber’s motion, Mayor Anderberg said that, in a worst-case scenario, council could pay for the project with a three per cent municipal tax increase. Council will apply for a federal grant that would cover up to 60 per cent of construction costs, provided the build goes ahead on a “net-zero” carbon footing, he told the public audience. 

 

 

Coun. Gary Clelland cast the vote as an “11th-hour” decision that would determine the curling club’s future.

“This is the time for us to take a positive step forward in our community, and say, ‘We want hundreds of people involved in this (curling) centre that for 100 years paid their way, have been leaders in the community … paid taxes in the community for 100 years, and still do today,” he said.  

Coun. Sahra Nodge objected that the long-term borrowing costs and subsequent maintenance of the rink would overly burden taxpayers, adding that the CRC’s gym and bowling alley are approaching their end of life.

“My role on council is to make sure that the monies that are spent by the town are done so responsibly, and with the due diligence and transparency that our community expects,” she said. 

Echoing Nodge, Coun. Brian Wright asked council, “How do we not bring a tax increase in order to get this to move forward?” 

 

 

Anderberg noted that residents surveyed in Pincher Creek’s March 2021 master recreation plan identified an upgrade to the curling rink as a top priority for indoor recreation.

“If our community tells us that a new curling facility is high on their list of priorities, I’ll follow their direction,” he said. 

Coun. David Green said housing solutions should take priority over the proposed curling rink. 

The town’s population has marginally shrunk in the past 15 years. Its housing vacancy rate was less than 1.5 per cent in 2017, when most of the town’s and neighbouring village of Cowley’s housing stock was close to 40 years old, according to a 2018 housing-needs assessment commissioned by council. 

“The lack of adequate and affordable housing for low-income families is a barrier to the economic growth and stability of (Pincher Creek) communities,” the assessment found.

 

 

Coun. Wayne Oliver, who attended the meeting remotely due to illness, said he trusted Anderberg’s business savvy. 

“Yes, housing is extremely important. But, I think we could work parallel on housing while building a new curling rink facility,” Oliver said. 

Barber’s motion passed 4-3 after Anderberg called the question, with Couns. Barber, Clelland and Oliver in favour, and Couns. Nodge, Green and Wright against. 

Council then unanimously passed Barber’s motions to apply for the federal grant and to tack $2.75 million onto 2023’s operating budget. 

Council must now decide whether to authorize a $4-million loan through a borrowing bylaw. The loan would  cover construction costs not already budgeted for if council’s grant application fails, but Anderberg said the town probably wouldn’t spend the full amount.

 

 

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Brocket man sough in relation to fatal crash notice on red and blue police-lights background with RCMP logo

Accused drunk driver charged in crash that killed his son

Fort Macleod RCMP are looking for a Brocket man charged in connection with a highway collision that killed his young son last fall.

Ryan Scott Potts, 38, was allegedly drunk behind the wheel when his Dodge Caravan collided with a semi-trailer at the intersection of Highways 2 and 3 late Friday, Oct. 21, according to Cpl. Paul Bedard. 

Potts was driving with his five and seven-year-old sons when the Dodge collided with the semi’s trailer. All three were rushed to Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, where Bedard said the boys were treated with “serious, life-threatening injuries” and then transported to hospital in Calgary.  

Tragically, the five-year-old died of his injuries, but his older brother survived and was later discharged. 

Potts was too badly injured to give a breath sample at the scene of the wreck, but Bedard said a toxicology screen showed that his blood-alcohol level was around 0.238 shortly after the collision. 

The legal driving limit in Alberta is 0.08. 

 

 

Potts was charged in December with nine offences related to the collision. Mounties are looking to arrest Potts, current whereabouts unknown, for the following offences: 

—Impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing death

—Impaired operation of motor vehicle causing bodily harm

—Impaired operation of motor vehicle

—Dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death

—Dangerous operation of motor vehicle causing bodily harm

—Operation of motor vehicle while prohibited

—Criminal negligence causing death

—Criminal negligence causing bodily harm

—Driving an uninsured motor vehicle

Anyone who knows where to find Potts is asked to call Fort Macleod RCMP at 403-553-7220 or phone Crimestoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Tips can also be sent online at www.P3Tips.com or by cell phone using the “P3 Tips” app available through the Apple App or Google Play Store.

 

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UCP candidate Chelsae Petrovic – smiling woman with long, straight, light-brown hair, wearing a grey sweater

Claresholm politician enters UCP nomination race for Livingstone-Macleod

Chelsae Petrovic, a licensed practical nurse outside of town chambers, told Shootin’ the Breeze on Jan. 31 that she wants to return provincial politics to its grassroots within the riding. 

“As politicians, we need to take our orders from and listen to our constituents,” she said. 

She’d been generally uninterested in politics until she decided to run for council in Claresholm in the run-up to its October 2021 civic election. 

Her husband, Cody, suggested that she aim higher, so she went for the mayoral spot and won.

 

 

“My specialty is advocating for people,” she said, adding that she resolved to run for the UCP’s riding nomination after some heart-wrenching conversations with local moms and dads last Christmas. 

“When I heard from parents who said they had to choose between buying presents for their children and filling up their gas tank … that’s what put me over the edge.” 

She wants to run under the UCP banner because, in her words, “I’m a mom; a wife; a Christian. I resonate more with the party’s traditional values.”

Petrovic said Premier Danielle Smith needs MLAs who will hold her to account while supporting her policy initiatives, including and especially Smith’s controversial Sovereign Alberta Within a United Canada Act.

 

 

“I truly believe that’s a good thing for Alberta,” she told the Breeze

As an LPN at Claresholm General Hospital and the emergency department in Fort Macleod, Petrovic said she “lives and breathes” health care. Fixing health care has to be about listening to front-line nurses and doctors and getting them what they need to stay in their jobs, she said. 

Petrovic said she planned to submit her finalized application to the UCP’s constituency association in Livingstone-Macleod within the week.

She will have to contend with a number of other hopeful nominees, including Don Whalen of nearby Parkland. 

 

 

The UCP reopened riding nominations on Jan. 26, roughly two months after the party disqualified Nadine Wellwood over her social media posts wherein she compared Canada’s Covid-19 measures to public policy in Nazi Germany. 

The party will close nominations in the riding Feb. 9, with the contest to be decided sometime in March, Petrovic said.

 

 

 

More Local Stories

 

 

 

Yellow snow plow on icy road

Snow and ice policy under review

Town council has directed administration to review its snow and ice policy, following a flurry of complaints by concerned residents.

Alexa Levair, Pincher Creek’s director of operations, was asked to speak to the town’s snow and ice policy when council met at last week’s committee of the whole. The policy, which is available for viewing on the town’s website, prioritizes hills, emergency routes and the downtown core along Main Street for sanding and snowplowing. 

School zones and traffic signs are listed as second- and third-level priorities.

Councillors said they’d heard complaints over the Christmas holiday from residents who felt their streets ought to have been plowed.

“I was definitely told by some members of our community that Adelaide Street wasn’t being looked after,” Coun. Mark Barber told the committee, referring to a nearby condominium complex that caters to seniors. 

“I was hoping that the seniors centres were on high-priority snow removal,” he added. 

Levair reminded council that, while such complaints are common, Pincher Creek’s snow and ice policy doesn’t prioritize residential streets. 

Despite prevalent misconceptions to the contrary, Levair pointed out that “We aren’t actively plowing every single residential road whenever it snows.”

 

 

The town has neither the staff and equipment nor the budget to do much more in terms of plowing and removing snow, she explained.

Mayor Don Anderberg said he’d heard similar complaints, but suggested that a previous council had prioritized snowplowing on Hewetson Avenue leading up to the intersection of Adelaide Street. 

Speaking at her office Thursday, Levair said snowplowing isn’t as easy as it might appear. 

“Wherever you plow snow, you have to put it somewhere else,” she said, explaining that snow has to be carted away when it piles up. It’s certainly not impossible, but it is time-consuming and costly, she later told Shootin’ the Breeze.

The committee of the whole passed a motion directing Levair to look into whether or not council had upped snowplowing and removal near Adelaide Street.

The director of operations said she planned to bring the town’s snow and ice policy back to council for review this summer. 

“It’s about finding a balance,” she said from her office at the town works yard. “Ultimately, it’s council who sets that balance.”

 

 

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Pincher Creek winter weather extremes

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Dr. Jared Van Bussel – smiling white male wearing blue paisley shirt

Maternity care on the ropes in Pincher Creek

Dr. Jared Van Bussel, who specializes in obstetrics, will stay on as a general physician and trauma surgeon at the Pincher Creek Health Centre and will continue his practice at the attached Associate Clinic, he told Shootin’ the Breeze on Thursday.

“If I were a younger man, I might be looking for greener pastures. I may yet look for other rural programs I can support for a little longer, but I intend to remain planted in Pincher Creek for now,” he wrote in an open letter.

“If my colleagues call me, I’ll always show up,” he said.

But it’s unlikely that the health centre can handle scheduled births, especially routine C-sections, without a dedicated obstetric surgeon.

The man has been on call for 70 per cent of his waking life for years, apart from his scheduled time off. The burnout is real, but Van Bussel repeatedly stressed that he’s scaling back his practice because of what he considers an acute and profoundly systemic lack of provincial support. 

“Alberta hates rural maternity care,” he wrote, telling the Breeze that in his 16 years in rural family medicine, he’d seen too many gaps in patient care and professional training for new doctors, and too many shortsighted cost-saving measures he said were untenable.

 

 

Things came to a head on his birthday, Jan. 16, when he received a letter from Alberta Health Services reminding him of the funding limits for on-call services paid for by an Alberta Health grant program.

“Please be advised AHS is unable to compensate you for (physician on-call) services in GP Surgery after you have reached 255.5 days of service,” the letter states.

AHS South Zone declined an interview for this story, but explained in a written statement that Van Bussel would continue to be paid, including for his on-call services.

“The South Zone recently sent a courtesy letter to physicians who were approaching the limited days paid for on-call time under the provincial Physician On Call Program,” the statement reads.

“We do not believe that any physicians (in Alberta) will go over their 255.5 days of on-call coverage,” AHS said in a followup statement.

The South Zone added that these courtesy letters “go out each year,” while other doctors at the health centre also received letters in the new year.

 

 

Van Bussel said  he’d never received any such letter before Jan.16, especially not in his six years as the town surgeon.

“They’ll always pay me for coming in, but they won’t pay to support physicians or the community in general,” he said.

As heartbreaking as it was for him to write his letter, he said he’d been crafting it for a long time. He’d told his Pincher Creek colleagues it was coming about a month ago.

“I’m willing to reconsider, but I just don’t see it,” he said.

The Government of Alberta is plainly not about to prioritize rural health care, he explained, and “when it feels like everything is pushing against it, it feels to me that we’re approaching a breaking point.”

 

 

Setting aside AHS’s “tone-deaf” letter,  Van Bussel reiterated that he wasn’t concerned about his take-home pay.

“I want to pull attention away from any one event and draw that attention to rural maternity care.”

With AHS insisting that “Physicians are a cornerstone of our health-care system,” Van Bussel said he’d made it known for years that it wasn’t sustainable for him to live on call while resources dwindled at the health centre.

The health centre serves around 10,000 patients over a broad swath of southwestern Alberta.

Its team of doctors is down from 11 to six and, instead of asking how the province could do more to help, AHS sent Van Bussel a letter that seemed to say no help was coming.

“I hope this will become a discussion point in the community. I hope that people will start asking their decision-makers why this is the case,” he said.

 

Read Dr. Van Bussel’s open letter

Read AHS letter to Dr. Van Bussel

 

 

 

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