By Jensen, Randy on June 3, 2020.
City council discussed rescinding its funding for $1.8 million in upgrades to the Six Mile Coulee trail for about an hour and half during Monday’s council meeting, and in the end tabled the motion for even more debate and discussion until the next city council meeting on June 15.
The Six Mile Coulee trail became an issue of concern for many mountain bikers and cross-country runners after council voted to go ahead with the project earlier this spring. These user groups have been vocal in their opposition to the project ever since.
In order to rescind the motion made in March, council needs to have a two-thirds vote in favour of now cancelling the planned work.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen brought forth the motion to rescind the funding during Monday’s meeting. He explained to reporters later he had always been opposed to the project from the beginning due to its cost, and now the community feedback councillors are receiving seemed to show, in his view, that few in Lethbridge support the creation of a costly limestone pathway with stairs along the top three kilometres of the trail.
“I think one of the main concerns is we want to make sure there is public engagement going forward,” Hyggen said, “and we want to make sure there will be communication with those user groups, and more so than we had found had possibly happened to date.”
Hyggen hoped when council returned to discuss the issue again in two weeks his colleagues would vote to cancel the project.
“I want this to be stopped,” he stated. “I did not support this here a couple months ago, and I guess somewhat of the frustrating part is we have spent money from that point to the point we are at now, which we could have saved. I just hope support comes through to rescind it with this two-thirds vote.”
Coun. Ryan Parker brought forth the motion to table discussion of the issue for another two weeks. Parker was supported by a majority of council in his desire to table discussion after Deputy Mayor Jeffrey Coffman had successfully amended Hyggen’s original motion to state more public consultations on the issue would take place after the current trail upgrades were rescinded. Coffman then hoped other models for potentially improving public access to the trail would be considered in November’s budget deliberations.
Mayor Chris Spearman supported Parker’s desire to have the discussion tabled for two weeks to mull over the confusing wording of the amended motion more thoroughly before the final vote.
“I thought it was odd to revoke funding for the pathway, and then enter into consultation with the community,” Spearman admitted, stating he, too, thought it should be two different motions: one to rescind the funding; and another to “go back to the drawing board” with new public consultations on new models for the pathway system in the Six Mile Coulee area.
-Spearman said he did not mind giving members of council more time if that is what they needed to resolve this “challenging” issue. He also wished to hear from more community members who are actually in favour of the changes to the pathway.
“Rather than forcing councillors to vote on something they were not ready to vote for this will give them two weeks to consider their positions,” he said. “We certainly have a good perspective from most in the community who currently use the path now, but I think it might be helpful for people who have a more environmental perspective. We are waiting to hear from the bird watchers and others who feel this path in its current form damages the environment. Council needs to hear that perspective.”
Spearman said at some point council must make a decision knowing that whatever it decides someone will be unhappy with the result; even as councillors work toward building some kind of consensus.
“Council has to look at the balance,” Spearman said, “and some of the wisdom of an extended consultation process might be saying, ‘Here’s what the original plan was? What do you like and what can you live with? And what don’t you like?'”
“I am very sympathetic to changes to these ad hoc bridges that have been built on the (current) path that don’t conform to any environmental standard,” he explained by way of example. “If more people are going to use this pathway and someone gets hurt, the City is going to be liable. Whenever there is a public pathway that requires safety issues that need to be addressed, it makes some sense to address those. And say we have to have a bridge that is reliable and safe for all that use it.”
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