LAC LA BICHE - Lac La Biche County councillors have approved a $3.4 million budget for a "land purchase" — but are not yet ready to say where the land is, who owns it, or what it could be used for.
The budget approval — that will see $2.4 million taken from the municipal operating budget and the remaining million coming from municipal reserves — was granted following a private session of council on June 7. The decision, approved unanimously, was part of the regular council's meeting minutes that were officially approved by councillors on June 14.
Lakeland This Week and the Lac La Biche POST newsroom did contact municipal officials to ask about the land and the budget, but have been told the matter is still being considered a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) matter.
When asked why the matter was not considered to be ready for the public — since the budget and transfer of the public funds had been approved by council — municipal officials say that delicate discussions about the issue may be ongoing.
"The details of this process have not yet ended and are, for the moment, protected under (FOIP) by sections 16 — disclosure harmful to the business interests of a third party — and 25 — disclosure harmful to economic and other interests of a public body," noted Lac La Biche County's manager of Communications, Jihad Mogrhabi.
Council members conduct "in-camera" or closed sessions during most regular, public council meetings. The closed sessions are held privately to discuss legal, land or personnel issues and are covered under the FOIP Act. Specific descriptions of the in-camera discussions are left relatively vague on council agendas, referring to them as "legal matter" or "economic development matter" or "Code of Conduct Issue".
As councillors cannot publicly discuss information from closed sessions, it is not known how long the land purchase issue has been in private discussions.
Homeless camp, lake trails and other projects
There are several recent projects where Lac La Biche County council could require additional land access, like new wastewater facilities in the Plamondon area, boat launch construction, right of ways for expanded utility services, upgraded office space, a lakeside recreation trail proposal, and a proposed facility to assist with the community's vulnerable and homeless populations.
In an update on the most recent Homeless Task Force meeting that was held in early June, however, Lac La Biche County councillor Colette Borgun indicated that a permanent site has yet to be nailed down.
"We need to work on a site, so we can move forward," she said.
A temporary homeless encampment, currently occupied by more than a dozen people living in small, wooden cabins, has been in operation since late last year on municipally-owned land in the Bonesville subdivision south of the Lac La Biche hamlet. The camp is being run by the local Metis Nation office with the assistance of municipal resources. Prior to the Bonesville location, several temporary "tent city" encampments had been illegally built on private property within the Lac La Biche hamlet. A Homeless Reduction Task force was created by municipal leaders in 2018. The task force is continuing to discuss options and find land to help the less fortunate in the community.
In the meantime — with questions about the multi-million dollar decision still in the air — some area residents who also noticed the funding approval in the municipal documents have voiced concerns and frustration over the decision — and the lack of public input. One resident told Lakeland This Week and the Lac La Biche POST newsroom he had also contacted municipal officials for some answers. He too was told it was a FOIP issue.
"As a citizen, this is questionable, if you ask me," he said.
Lac La Biche County officials have told the Lac La Biche POST they will provide details on the $3.4 million land deal when they can.