June 18th, 2024

Council questions staff on proposed Peenaquim Park disc golf course

By Tim Kalinowski on July 16, 2021.

Herald file photo - Signs were up this spring showing the site of a proposed new disc golf course at Peenaquim Park.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

A proposed disc golf course in Peenaquim Park became a lightning rod for debate as city councillors demanded more information from City staff as to why the proposed course was never formally brought before council prior to advancing these plans with one local community group on City lands.
Parks manager Dave Ellis told councillors his department had been approached by the Lethbridge Disc Golf Association to find a suitable location to build a course after receiving a $7,100 Community Capital Grant from city council last year. In June of 2020 the association, working in conjunction with his office, had identified an unused area of Peenaquim Park next to the existing off-leash dog park, Softball Valley and the Lethbridge Fish and Game shooting range as the best fit based on compatible uses.
The Parks department had then proceeded to mow the overgrown area to further investigate the ground for the potential course, and found it suitable. The Disc Golf Association then purchased the baskets, signs and other equipment needed to proceed for a full course set up in summer 2021 using the grant funding.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Ellis asked Association representative Greg Morris to do a presentation to city council without informing the agenda committee in advance- giving councillors no prior advisement the presentation was coming.
After proceeding with his presentation for a few minutes explaining the growing prominence of disc golf in the community, Morris was asked to halt as Coun. Rob Miyashiro made a procedural challenge based on the fact council had no prior knowledge of this presentation, and it was not included in their meeting package.
Mayor Chris Spearman, as chair of the meeting, allowed Morris to conclude his presentation after being informed Morris was almost done.
Afterwards, Miyashiro asked why the disc golf course was even being put on the agenda after determining the Peenaquim Park proposal had not, to his knowledge, previously been brought to council on any level?
“Did it come to one of the SPCs (Standing Policy Committees) rather than just come to council?” Miyashiro asked.
“I am not aware of that, but since there was some controversy in the community it is appropriate it comes before council and receives full vetting,” responded Spearman.
“So the Agenda Review (committee) is just changing process as they see fit, is that what you are saying?” stated Miyashiro.
Spearman said it was precisely because council had never officially seen the proposal before that the committee felt it was important for the public and council to take a look at it.
Miyashiro then asked City Manager Craig Dalton if it was his staff’s practice to designate land uses in the city without council’s approval?
Dalton referred the question to the Director of Infrastructure Services, who is ultimately in charge of the Parks department, Doug Hawkins.
“I think there is no policy for a formal delegation of authority with respect to park uses,” Hawkins stated.
And in this case, he later added, because there was no additional capital budget ask with this proposal which also had very low operating costs, the Parks department felt it would be okay to proceed with the disc golf course at Peenaquim Park without referring it to council first.
Miyashiro then asked if an environmental assessment had been done of the proposed disc golf course as there were known coyote dens and songbird ground nesting locations in that wilder area of Peenaquim Park? None had, Ellis confirmed.
Miyashiro also wondered about the advisability of putting a disc golf course beside an off-leash area given dogs are known to like chasing frisbees. He was advised a four-foot fence was being proposed for one end of the site to help mitigate that problem.
Coun. Jeffrey Coffman also asked if the Parks department knew how much the City would have to pay to maintain and operate the site? Ellis said it should be minimal, but confessed that no hard numbers had yet been compiled for council’s consideration. Any costs should be absorbed through the Park’s department’s existing budget, he stated.
Coun. Coffman said he really then didn’t know what he was looking at with the proposed disc golf course if he lacked the information to decide if it was a good idea or not. He asked for the City Manager’s opinion on how council should proceed given this? Dalton advised council he would recommend that council allow his staff to confer, get the proper information together, and bring it back to a future council meeting.
Hawkins then spoke up saying his people were of course willing to do that if council wanted it, but he didn’t think it was necessary as council already had, in his opinion, the information it needed.
“I think we can answer your questions right now,” he said. “There are some incidental operating costs associated with assisting the club in actually bringing this project to fruition. And we are happy to quantify that and circulate that to council either formally at the next meeting of council or in advance in a separate email. We have not done a detailed environmental assessment, and, frankly, we don’t think that it’s necessary on the basis you have a shooting range on one side side of the road, you have an off-leash dog area on the other side of the road, in essentially the same venue in Peenaquim Park. To suggest this project is an inappropriate location from an environmental perspective is, frankly, not the opinion of administration.”
Hawkins went on to defend his staff who were just trying to work with a local community group to add another amenity for the City of Lethbridge.
“We make no apologies as administration for trying to assist this particular community group in expanding their facilities and their membership in the community,” he stated.
After Hawkins finished, Dalton responded publicly and directly by adding “a bit of perspective” to what had been said by his Director of Infrastructure Services.
“It may be an uncomfortable forum to have this conversation in today,” he began, “but it was important for this update to come to council, in my opinion. It’s not about ‘making apologies’ for what we have done. It is, frankly, about recognizing the way information has come forward in this case probably was not optimal.
“So what I would recommend is we, as administration, go away, and address a couple of questions not just council has raised, but, frankly, I have after the presentation (today),” he stated.
After hearing Dalton’s firm recommendation, council voted unanimously to receive Tuesday’s report for information and have city staff return to a future council meeting with a more detailed report on the proposed disc golf course at Peenaquim Park.

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