RMs want more say on environmental issues

Members of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities complain government has too much oversight

Saskatchewan’s rural municipalities want more control over environmental decisions inside their boundaries.

Wayne Black, reeve in the RM of Barrier Valley in the 1990s, returned to the position a couple of years ago.

“The biggest difference I’ve noticed since I’ve come back is the loss of control we as municipalities have, mostly in the area of the environment,” he told the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities’ midterm convention.

For example, the RM has a permit to operate its landfill but requires more permits to do things such as burn clean wood.

“If you have one board with a bit of paint on it, you don’t get a permit,” he said.

Culvert replacement is another example. He said it used to be a simple matter, but now a permit is needed and that can take time.

“I just think the provincial government gives the environment department free rein,” he said.

“It’s time to take some control back.”

Eric Widdup, a councillor in the RM of Kingsley, agreed, particularly in the area of water drainage.

He said the RM has been trying to follow proper procedure by obtaining permits, and he has done the same on his farm in an attempt to set an example.

“My experience, both private from our experience on our farm, as well as through the municipality, has caused me to conclude that the permitting process is dysfunctional at best and at worst perhaps designed to fail,” he said.

Widdup said he recognized that the new drainage regulations are in transition, but municipalities are faced daily with expensive and sensitive drainage issues.

“As an RM council, often we must develop the courage to do what is best for the greater benefit of ratepayers while at the same time looking over our shoulders for fear of breaking rules or setting wrong precedents,” he said.

He suggested a return to common sense decision-making.

However, councilor Perry Brookes from the RM of Meadow Lake urged others to take liability into consideration.

“You have to be very careful,” he said.

“It can turn into a real liability nightmare, in my opinion.”

Delegates did vote in favour of a resolution calling for jurisdictional control and common sense by an 81 to 19 percent margin.

This was the first SARM convention to use electronic voting rather than a show of hands.

Another environmental resolution called on SARM to negotiate an agreement with the environment ministry to allow RMs to operate incinerators.

John Wagner, reeve in the RM of Piapot, said the RM used to dig a hole for $1,000 and it would last five years.

The ministry told the RM it could no longer do that.

“We ignored them. They fined us $14,000, so now we pay $4,000 to access Maple Creek and pay $1,000 a month to haul to Swift Current,” he said.

Wagner said incinerators are a good option, and he wants the government to give RMs the right to use them.

“We don’t want to turn around and end up paying another $20,000 fine because the ministry didn’t bless it, or David Suzuki,” Wagner said to laughter from the delegates.

The resolution was also carried by a 96 percent vote.

Two point-of-privilege resolutions raised during the convention were debated and passed.

One called for a review of policing costs and a decrease to what municipalities pay. The other called on SARM to urge the new federal Liberal government to work with organizations and communities to re-open the former federal shelter belt centre at Indian Head, Sask.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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