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Burn Lake council debates debt

Prospect of $2.7 million loan rejected

Following the rejection of the $2.7-million grant application for a complete overhaul of Eighth Avenue, Burn Lake village council has been considering the prospect of borrowing money to pay for the project.

However, the majority of councillors voted in favour of a less ambitious initiative: repaving the strip of Eighth Avenue between Lake Babine Road and Centre Street, a project expected to cost $372,000.

Yet council didn’t completely rule out the prospect of borrowing money for future roadwork. The resolution carried during the April 24 meeting directs staff to prepare a report outlining the scope of work needed to improve the streets of Burns Lake, and the option for financing it.

The question of taking out a loan — and the referendum that it might entail —produced some debate in the council hall.

Mayor Chris Beach came out against the idea of a loan for the Eighth Avenue project. He suggested that the village could find perhaps $400,000 each year to repave troublesome stretches of road, leading to a gradual improvement — but that massive rebuilds were beyond the means of the village.

“I think it’s something that’s always going to be beyond affordability,” said Beach.

But Councillor Susan Schienbein argued in favour of a more thoroughgoing rebuild of Eighth Avenue, and suggested that council put the question to voters in a referendum.

She said that sidewalks should be a priority on Eighth Avenue, noting that it’s a major pedestrian thoroughfare serving Burns Lake Band and institutions like the hospital and schools. She also noted that council had previously considered taking on debt if the idea won the approval of voters at the ballot box.

All members of council agreed that the roads were a problem, but most balked at the idea of escalating the issue of Eighth Avenue to a plebiscite.

Councillor Michael Riis-Christianson said that local roads have deteriorated significantly — but that if anything goes to referendum, it should be for upgrades to the water treatment plant. “In my opinion, clean water trumps transportation.”

Dale Ross, the village’s director of public works, said that cracks would likely develop in the repaved road, but that resurfacing the streets would be a better use of scarce funds.

He also noted that repaving the streets — as opposed to overhauling them — was the plan recommended by LD Paving, a contractor based in Smithers that does roadwork for the village.

Council ultimately voted in favour of a motion calling for staff to repave the two-block stretch of Eighth Avenue and to bring back other options for the rest of the town, with Schienbein being the only councillor to oppose the decision.