Merlin Blackwell, Mayor for the District of Clearwater, said road improvement and addressing the Wells Gray corner are both on the top of the agenda for 2019. He also hopes to maintain an open door policy at the town hall to make himself available to listen to the concerns of residents. Photo by K.A. Pendergast

A Chat with Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell

What 2019 has in store for the District of Clearwater

By K.A. Pendergast

District of Clearwater (DOC) Mayor, Merlin Blackwell, had a few things to say about the upcoming year and what he hopes to see happen around town.

“There is so much that has to be done but, the big focus is not only figuring out what we have and what we can do with it, but that’s part of it,” Blackwell said.

“We have budgets coming up, so we do have a fairly thin budget, but we have to see what we can squeeze out of it and one of those things is Fire Safe, Fire Smart, Fuel Reduction, we need to start working on those kinds of projects around town.”

He said luckily there’s a grant available the district can use for planning for fuel reduction, and with the wildfires that happened the last couple of summers, emergency management and protection against fires is on everyone’s minds.

That is, of course, one of the core issues. Another core issue with wintertime arriving, is roads.

One of the key road issues involved is Dunn Lake Rd, where many incidents have concerned and that’s only a portion of the roads in question, with Clearwater having 70 kms of roads to take care of in total.

That’s more than any town in the province per population, and nearly double other towns similar in size; Barriere is probably the closest in kilometers of roads that need to be taken care of, with only a mere 28 kilometers.

Blackwell said, “This will be the achilles heel of Clearwater forever.”

He mentioned how tough it is only getting a limited amount of revenue from taxes and with probably 40 kms needing attention in the next 10 years minimum, it’s a huge burden on the town.

Administration and council would happily spend more if they had it, he said.

The way around that is grants, but there are only so many available and Blackwell said we’re lucky to get the ones we do. Dunn Lake Rd. is something we sort of inherited, Blackwell added, and it’s pretty much at least a $20 million repair that we don’t have the money for.

They have been looking at it for over five years now.

“We may have to go backwards to go forward,” he said. “To begin with, we may have to go back to gravel for the time being.”

This will make the road easier to keep level with grading and will reduce the speed in the area somewhat as well.

Blackwell added an average city road costs approximately $1 million per kilometer to build, which takes up a large portion of the budget, leaving less cash for other priorities the district needs to address.

Highway building is about $3 million dollars per kilometre, which in addition, adds to the large number of kilometres to oversee, especially if it’s built to the standards needed for heavy trucks and buses.

Patching jobs are up as high as $400,000 per kilometre, making the minimum replacement cost for the whole town in roads $70 million.

The income for the whole community, including the grants received, is between $4 million and $7 million for an average year.

There’s just not enough money for everything, Blackwell said, even patching. The percent of useable income from taxes set aside for the roads is roughly five per cent or possibly up to 10 per cent.

Not enough to go around no matter what you do, said Blackwell, and though Clearwater has been successful at getting grants, things tend to move slowly regardless.

The governments have gotten grants out there more than in the last number of years, so Clearwater can hopefully tackle a few more issues going forward than the town would have been able to in the past.

We’ve been planning and looking forward to get things ready for any monies that prove available to us, he added.

Another issue Blackwell discussed was progressive zoning that would hopefully be addressed in the future. Progressive zoning has to do with the size of homes allowed on properties and the possibility of more than one home per property.

He said he hopes an option will be on the DOC agenda in the future and even the mention of tiny houses was heard. The traditional way of doing things is not necessarily the way we need to continue in the future as a whole.

The Wells Gray corner was also mentioned by Blackwell.

There have been speculations, and those who are observant may have noticed some trucks and surveyors from a number of different companies and groups at that location in the recent past.

They have met with the Ministry of Transport and have been advised of preliminary ideas for fixing that corner and are expecting something in the works for 2020. With planning and designs starting in the spring Blackwell said, “The good news is it is gonna happen, the bad news is it will take a year or two, but we are gonna get it done.”

On a different note, Blackwell added he’s here to represent everyone in the community equally and the concerns of everyone are his concerns also; he said he’s hoping to have an open-door policy in the New Year with his hours being 10 a.m. to noon on both Mondays and Fridays.

These are some of the first issues to address in the year and he said he welcomes the input of anyone with something to discuss. He would like to see everyone go out on a little vacation and then come back home and see just how beautiful and special the area truly is, he said.

“What are we offering? Do we need to offer everything? What do people use? What do people value? What are people going to need in the future versus the idea of, do you continue a service just because you have always done that? I don’t think that’s the way we need to work anymore. What do people really want and need to change, grow, and adapt?” Blackwell said.

“Simplification of life is the way we need to focus in the future; for example, it’s better to dispose of things at a loss than to continue to hold on to them for no valid reason. Such as, parks cost money even if you don’t use them. Are we really doing a service by not adapting or changing?”

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