Skip to content

From railway ties to old cars, Lac La Biche County committee hopes to address trouble spots

If bylaws allow for unsightly places, change the bylaws say councll

LAC LA BICHE - Cleaning up neighbourhoods could clean up crime, says a Lac La Biche advisory committee. 

Engaging with Lac La Biche County residents to promote a safer community while providing education to support the services of the Safer Municipalities Advisory Committee’s action plan, is a year-round effort, says Chris Clark, the county’s Manager of Enforcement Services. 

The SMAC committee, which includes the local enforcement department and RCMP, alongside county residents, municipal staff and community partners, is continuing to build on a list of action items to enhance policing services. 

The objectives include focusing on a police presence patrolling both rural and urban areas, educating youth and adults, while preventing crime and promoting road safety well into 2023, said Clark. 

Community pride 

However, one of the biggest contributors that could support overall policing efforts in regards to prevention is creating visually cleaner neighbourhoods, especially in the downtown area, which Clark says is a big part of crime reduction. 

“Ultimately, one of the biggest crime prevention things...that we need to do with the downtown is to liven that up so that we make it look nicer and more attractive,” he said speaking about the comments from the most recent SMAC meeting. 

The unsightly areas are something that municipal officials have also commented on. Throughout the municipality, residents and properties have been littered with debris and broken vehicles that are impacting appeal and hindering the efforts of beautification and construction projects the county is working on to improve, says Coun. Sterling Johnson. 

“There is some wrecked cars…railway ties, there is metal by KFC,” said Johnson. “What can we do to start enforcing our bylaws and get some of this stuff removed? Do we have to change our bylaws so that we can act on a lot of these properties that are leaving junk right on our Main Street?” 

Bylaw enforcement 

Local peace officers through the Community Standards Bylaw — which includes regulations for residents and business owners to maintain clean properties — issued 10 tickets from 124 investigations through the first three months of this year, said Clark. 

“Our community standards investigations…or charges have actually gone up and the amount of orders we have written to properties that are unsightly have actually gone up as well this year,” including two properties that are scheduled to be demolished by the end of May, said Clark, adding that the exact locations of the problem properties isn’t being publicly released at this time. 

Clark says that often it’s not as simple as just issuing a ticket for an untidy area. He said many area businesses, for example, are properly zoned to be conducting certain kinds of work, even though some residents may not agree.  

“If it’s a shop that does mechanical work, services vehicles and has an impound…they’re well within their limit and their right to hold on to those vehicles and to have them there as long as it’s on their property,” he said, referring to some automotive-related businesses that may have vehicles in their yards. 

CN rail ties 

One of the most recent, and most visible eye-sores, according to residents, is a growing pile of salvaged railway ties lined up behind the community cemetery. The CN railyard which borders residential and commercial properties within the hamlet of Lac La Biche has recently become a storage area for thousands of chemically-treated railway ties. Clark said municipal officials have been in discussion with CN, and the wood will be removed throughout the spring and summer season, he says the rail company has been waiting for the proper equipment for removal. 

Keeping those lines of dialogue open and having good discussions with local businesses is always preferred to handing out tickets and fines, said Clark.  

In the coming months, the municipality will again be implementing the Community Ambassador program that sees specially-assigned municipal staff monitoring the downtown area, answering questions from visitors, speaking to merchants and helping to promote the community. The ambassadors work closely with the municipality’s peace officers as well as other departments, bringing back observations from the community to the municipal departments that are meant to improve the community. 

“There are properties being dealt with, and within the downtown, we do have our community street ambassadors coming back as well,” said Clark, explaining that other municipal supports, like grant funding for building renovations are also available through the County offices. “We’re also strongly encouraging our business to access” support from the county’s revitalization grant for storefronts, he said.

The SMAC committee members hope to see local businesses taking advantage of the supports and attention. Admitting it will take some effort, he says a healthier looking downtown, one that shows community pride, is a great tool in crime prevention.  

“If the businesses are doing the same, it’s going to look exactly the same as it does now.” 

Clark noted the department has been looking into adjusting rules within the bylaw followed by bridging those potential changes through education for the community to participate. 

In recent weeks, the Community Standard Bylaw has been getting some updates and changes, which Clark said will give it more weight when it comes to enforcement, but also emphasizes pro-active partnerships. 

“Our Community Standards Bylaws is actually being revised internally by our department right now, with some changes made to it that are more strict. And then our officers are working on that proactive enforcement and education ... as opposed to complaint response.” 

Moving forward, county officials will determine what possible outcomes can be reached to strengthen the bylaw to clean up the community and make sure rules are being followed to the full extent, said Coun. Lorin Tkachuk. 

“If there are bylaws or land-use bylaws that people might be working within, but aren’t working for the community, maybe we need to look at that…it will help as we progress and build more.”  

Timing 

With the start to the proposed $16 million downtown streetscape beginning its second phase through the downtown this year, it only makes sense to put more focus on the overall appearance of the community, says councillor Sterling Johnson.  

“If we are going to be doing upgrades on our Main Street, we’ve got to start enforcing some of our bylaws that way and getting our areas cleaned up,” he said.