Snowbirds’ boats targeted at borders to prevent invasive species from reaching Alberta waterways

Published on Monday, 17 November 2014

Government thinking of mandatory boat stops for next year

bowden billboard thumbnailsThe Alberta government is now targetting boats owned by snowbirds as they come across the border. This new initiative, preventing dangerous aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels from invading our water, is already gearing up for spring of 2015.

This provincial program, dubbed Clean, Drain and Dry, originated from Idaho was put into effect by initiating a media campaign to spread awareness, along with boat inspection stations in certain areas of the province.

The Calgary Journal in May did an exploration of aquatic invasive species and the threats they possess, as well as a look at Alberta’s efforts to prevent the spread. While one of the main species Alberta is threatened by is zebra and quagga mussels, some other species Alberta government has been keeping an eye on are Eurasian watermilfoil, spiny waterflea, and hydrilla among others.

Kate Wilson, Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, talks about the program and changes for the future.

*some answers have been edited for length and clarity

So why did you choose to adopt the Clean, Drain, Dry program?

The reason we chose this program was because it’s positive, and it tells people what to do in the message. We’ve seen titles in some states with aggressive slogans like, “Don’t Move a Mussel,” and that doesn’t really help people know what to do. One difference is in Alberta, our ads look a little different from others just to help distinguish that it’s new here.

Is this program mainly targeted to be educational?

While I would say it is largely an educational program, we’re more seeking for a behavioural change. The goal is to hope people will start doing this naturally as they travel around with their boats.

Boats and trailers are the most likely vector (source) for many harmful and high profile species. There are other potential sources as well, such as firefighting equipment, pump trucks used in industry, water-based construction equipment, float planes, etc. We have made headway on the firefighting equipment – our crews now use steam trucks to clean equipment such as air tankers when they have left the province.hinton2Kate Wilson, Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, spoke with the Calgary Journal regarding the dangers invasive species present, and ways to prevent them. 

Photo courtesy of Kate Wilson

How over the summer did you try to push this initiative? 

We implemented Clean, Drain and Dry over a variety of mediums. We placed ads on billboards on the highway, a few electronic ads on billboards in the cities. There were a lot of signs posted at boat launchers, and we had a booth at several boat shows. We also got Michael Short to do a television ad that aired on Sports Network. It aired on four provinces, so we might have overshot that one a little (laughs).

The goal is to have the majority of boat owners and anglers aware of the issue and the specific actions they can take to prevent the spread of all AIS. With the boat inspections out on the highway all summer, it was important to make sure we had a campaign explaining the issue and the solution!

Were there any bodies of water you guys were stationed at, or did you spend more time near the borders?

We had boat inspection stations focusing mainly on highways, trying to see if there were people with boats traveling back and forth. Because we’re more worried about species getting into the province, we stuck to areas close to borders, like Lethbridge and Lloydminster. We didn’t go too far on any back roads, we stuck mainly to existing commercial vehicle roads.

How many people did you guys inspect over the course of the summer?

We stopped about 3,700 people over the summer. Of those we intercepted two cases of aquatic invasive species on boats. That makes for 10 interceptions over the past two years.

When inspecting a boat and you guys do find an invasive species, what is the protocol that follows?

It depends on the situation. All boats that come in dirty or have standing water or plants/critters attached must be clean before they leave. We have equipment on site to decontaminate boats – hot water- high pressure wash units with attachments for different kinds of boats (e.g. inboard, outboard, sailboats, ballast tanks, jet skis, etc.). Most often we have boaters that are compliant with the process, as no one wants to be responsible for an introduction of invasive species! Especially mussels given the tremendous economic and environmental impacts (we estimate an infestation could cost Alberta over $75 million annually). If we have a boater who is not compliant but has come from a high risk area, our Fishery Officers have authority to hold the boat for as long as it takes to clean it, and depending on the situation, ensure that it is completely dry before it is released. Mussels can live up to 30 days out of the water.

So what happens after the summer month’s end?

Well after peak season, which usually ends after Labour Day, we wind down the patrols around the province. There is a focus on what to improve for next year, but we continue to patrol around the borders because of ‘snow birders.’

Often people who drive down to spend the winter months in warmer places down in the states will take their own boats down with them, or buy used boats there and then bring them back here. These are usually the most at-risk boats for invasive species, so we have to catch them as they come back across the border.

What are some of the changes you’d like to make for 2015?

We’d like a bit more authority for boat stops. Currently it’s a voluntary inspection for us to check boats on the highway, but we’d like to make it mandatory. The states are good with mandatory inspections, and we’d like to emulate that.

We’re also hoping to expand our presence throughout the province, try to cover more vectors besides boats. We also have another campaign that we’re starting called ‘Don’t Let it Loose,’ which will focus on the exotic fish trade coming in and out of the province.

For more information on aquatic invasive species and Clean, Drain and Dry, click here.



Snow removal on residential streets in the north concerning residents

Published on Monday, 03 November 2014 in The Calgary Journal

Hilly communities prove to create hazardous conditions

SnowRemovalTHUMBWith the winter months approaching, Calgarians are starting to get ready for hazardous driving conditions but not everyone has faith in the city’s snow removal efforts.

Petroula Christakis lives in Hawkwood, a hilltop community west of Nosehill Park in the city’s northwest. She cited that every winter city buses getting stuck is a regular occurrence and that getting to work in the morning can be a frustrating endeavor.

“The snow removal is always really bad in this area,” she said.

As evidenced by the snowfall on Sept. 8, parts of Calgary can fall into disarray when there is snow on the road in the winter months.

Residents in communities like Hawkwood and Edgemont sometimes see the worst of it, with snow staying on the roads sometimes until the spring months.

The City of Calgary has a seven-day plan in the instance of a snow event.

Once the snow has settled, the first two days are spent plowing major highways that see over 20,000 cars a day and then secondary roads that see anywhere between 5,000 to 19,000 cars a day.

Residential areas are scheduled to be plowed from the third to sixth day. However, the plows will only knock snow ruts down to 12 centimetres, enough snow to warrant a winter warning in some cities.

Jessica Bell, the communications advisor for the roads department in Calgary, explained that it is rare to see actual snow removal in residential areas. Instead the snow crews “flat blade” the snow to try and make it easier for people to drive on.SnowRemovalPetroula Christakis is one resident of Hawkwood who has concerns about the city’s snow removal efforts in her area.

Photo by Jeff Medhurst

“At this time roads does not have any plans to change our snow removal policy, or lack thereof, in residential communities,” Bell said.

“The reason for this being that during a typical Calgary winter our planned response to snowfall is adequate.”

Bell said the city’s budget for snow and ice control is $34.6 million annually. Cities like Toronto and Montreal have snow removal budgets between $80 million and $100 million.

“At roads we have a measured, planned response to snowfalls,” Bell said. “We will continue to provide the best service we can according to our council approved snow and ice control policy.”

But, that response isn’t enough for a lot of people in northwest communities where flat bedding might not be adequate safety for a lot of drivers.

Another resident of Hawkwood, Kelly Dallison, has found that while she still has to be careful, the risk of sliding down a snowy hill isn’t as likely as it used to be.

“I have found that it has gotten better over the years,” Dallison said.

Communities like Hawkwood and Edgemont are built into hills. This creates extra slippery conditions especially when the snow gets patted down.

Hawkwood resident Christakis added that when the city spreads salt and sand on city roads, it melts the snow and ice, but then that water freezes overnight creating sheets of ice two to three inches thick on roads.

Dallison agreed with Christakis’ sentiment and said that it is the ice to watch out for, and in such cases she will use the snow as traction.

Greg Hartzler, the communications liaison for Councillor Joe Magliocca of Ward 2 in Calgary, defended the city’s snow removal policy. He said he hears little complaint from constituents.

“Actually the main complaint we receive is that walking pathways don’t see enough plowing,” Hartzler said.
AMA Insurance Communications Coordinator Alexandra Sochowski said that while insurance quotes are determined in case-to-case scenarios, she has found that most people in hilly communities will end up waiting to drive until the area is at least sanded.

“Most drivers in the areas mentioned are aware of the potential problems on snowy days,” Sochowski said. “However there are always exceptions.”

New MD of Bonnyville building opens

Published Monday, August 26, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun



After two years of construction, the MD of Bonnyville new offices officially opened the new offices on Monday August 19. While the council had moved into the building last spring, they hadn’t officially opened the new building until the ribbon cutting ceremony took place.
Now the entire staff can fit in the new building, which is four times the size of the original, and they have even more staff than before.

Ed Rondeau, the council’s reeve, says the new space will give them the chance to do more and will better equip them to deal with issues as they arise.

“The new space will give us a chance to do things like mapping with GPS, so we can better plan for development,” Rondeau said as an example of what the new building will be capable of compared to the old one.

Having the entire MD council in house in a big plus, said Rondeau, making communication among the staff easier. The building also was constructed to better accommodate the citizens of the MD, with a friendlier approach to welcoming them to the building.

“We placed the main greeting counter at the front as opposed to the old building,” Rondeau said. “So now when people walk in they can ask the questions they need to ask at the front.”

Author comes for book signing in Cold Lake

Published Tuesday, July 30, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun


On Saturday August 3rd, new author Shelley Thody will be coming to Cold Lake to do a book signing on her first book, Melancholy Mania and Miracles: My Journey with Bipolar Disorder. She’ll be signing the book at Lots-A Books.

The book is an autobiographical account of Thody’s struggle with bipolar disorder, and since it’s publishing in November it has done very well in her hometown of Lac la Biche where she works as a schoolteacher during the year. However now during the summer months she’s working at promoting the book and getting it into as many hands as possible.

“My inspiration for writing the book, was that I’ve been through a lot, and I want to inspire others and remind them that there may be hope out there even if they’re going through a bad time like I was,” Thody explained.

The process of writing the book itself was a roller coaster ride for Thody, having been forced to relive all the experiences that have culminated into her life so far.

“It was difficult, it was healing, and it was scary,” Thody said. “I had to reiterate everything I’ve done in my life, the good and the bad choices. It was difficult to reiterate the tough times, but that in a way gave me a courage I didn’t have before.”

Before the book came out she told her coworkers at the school about the book, and many were surprised to hear she had bipolar disorder at all.

“But they were all very encouraging, it was pretty amazing,” Thody said.

Thody had success in Lac la Biche, with the book selling well all around town. She made a few appearances at book signings, and even went down to Calgary for a book signing at a Chapters bookstore. Lots-A Books offered the upcoming book signing, and Thody eagerly took it as it’s her summer mission to promote the book.

Even though it’s her goal for the summer to work at marketing the book, she has no plans at the moment to retire from teaching and work as a writer.

“I will be returning to teaching in the fall,” Thody said. “I have been approached to write another book, but at the moment my goal is to get this book into as many hands as possible.

“I believe there’s a stigma around talking about mental illness, and we have to be brave enough to talk about it to help the people who need it. So that’s what I’m hoping to push for with the book.”


Soccer camp scores

Published Tuesday, July 23, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun


For the fourth year, Cold Lake Minor Soccer has once again hosted a summer camp for kids of all ages to get some practice with the fundamentals. The turnout for the camp was around 100 kids from all over the Lakeland area, and even one from Edmonton who vacations in Cold Lake for the summer.

The camp is run by Challenger Sports, a program that brings coaches from the U.K. to teach kids some new skills and some old ones in different ways.

“We have coaches from all over the place, a bunch are from Scotland and we got one guy from Wales, for example,” Steve Cupit, the technical director for Cold Lake Minor Soccer, said.

Although for many of the kids it may be skills they have learned before, Cupit says bringing in a fresh face to teach it always helps.
“Plus you put someone with a British accent in front of them and the kids tend to take them more seriously,” Cupit joked.

The camps were split up based on age group and skill level, ranging from full-day developmental camps to mini-soccer for kids ages four to six. The younger groups would focus on building individual skills like ball handling and control, while some of the older and more advanced groups would work on more team oriented skills. Every day the groups would focus on a certain skill to develop, such as heading the ball, which would culminate in a game at the end of the day.

One of the other things the camp was doing this year is called the African Cup of Nations, which assigns kids in the camp to different countries in Africa. It becomes those kids job to research their country and design a flag, because on the last day they hold a tournament with each team representing their country.

U12 girls soccer team brings home silver

Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun


On the weekend of July 6th Cold Lake’s U12 girl’s soccer team, the Focus, earned second place in the provincial championships.

“They surprised everyone, including the parents,” Stacey Boyd, the team manager, said.

Kraushaar, consisted of a mix of age groups, from kids who had played in U12 last year and kids who had played U10 previously and had just moved up.

The tournament took place in Three Hills.  To qualify for the tournament, the girls had to compete in the Lakeland cup several weeks ago where they defeated Bonnyville in the final game.

After their success in that tournament, the team was invited to play at the provincials.
The team played four games and won their first three.

Their goalie nearly entered the final game with a shutout for the whole tournament, only letting one goal in at the end of the third game.

However their winning streak ended in the final game where they lost 4-1 against the Northern Strikers, a team from Fort St. John from B.C., a town whose close proximity to Alberta makes them part of the soccer division.

NLSD trustees debate school priorities

Published Monday, June 24, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun


A heated debate at the Northern Lights School District meeting on June 19 led to a change in the three-year plan.
Board members were divided on the issue, but the change has resulted in putting a new Cold Lake Elementary School at the top of the priorities.
Parents of kids who attend the current Cold Lake Elementary School came to the meeting to express their concerns regarding the school, and the need for a new one.
Reading from a letter drafted by a group of parents, a representative said that the school is maxed to capacity and it is only going to get more students as the city grows.  There are 308 students who use the school, and 80 preschoolers who use the day care associated with the school.
This has pushed the electricity levels to the max that the 50-year-old school can handle, and there is still the safety issue regarding the bathrooms.
The buildings are not equipped with enough washrooms, forcing kids to traverse across a dangerous parking lot to get to the other building and use the washroom.
The parents already an idea in mind of where to put the school, in the back far west corner of the field the current school is in, but they face several obstacles such as the school needing a partnership before it’s built.
However that was a relatively moot point as the meeting went on and the item on the agenda to change the three-year education plan came up.  In a recent meeting with the MLA, several trustees were told that if building a new school wasn’t at the top of the priorities, it wasn’t going to happen.
At the time of its passing, Lac La Biche’s new elementary school was higher up on the list of the three year plan, and thus it was called into question whether or not to place a new school in Cold Lake as the top priority.
This led to much debate, as trustees agreed that Cold Lake is in more dire need but some were concerned about changing a plan that has already been submitted.
Danny Smaiel, a trustee of Ward 3, said that it was nonsense that a school could only be built if it was the top on the priorities list.
“There is no reason both can’t be built,” Smaiel said.  “And we don’t want to look like we’re flaking out of decision we’ve already made.”
Another advocate for not changing it was Roxanne Suhan, a trustee of Ward 5.
“There is mould in the Lac La Biche School,” Suhan said.  “We can’t just ignore the health of kids in one school for kids in another.”
On the opposing end there were trustees like Tom Varughese and Rod Soholt who were in favour of changing the three-year plan.
“Changing your mind means you only have the logic to fix a mistake,” Soholt said in defense of changing the three-year plan.
Walter Hrycauk, a trustee of Ward 2, reminded the other trustees that no matter what they did another school wouldn’t be built for at least two three years.
The line was drawn down the middle of the room, and after over an hour of discussion it was finally called to a vote.
In the end, it was voted five to four in favour of changing the three-year plan to make Cold Lake Elementary a top priority on the three-year plan.

Gymnasts’ year was a good one: coach

Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun

Above the Seniors’ Centre is a group of young people who are hard at work honing their gymnastics skills.  Under the guidance of their coaches they open their practices with several laps around the gym, limbering up while doing so.
The Cold Lake Gymnastics group had one of their most successful years yet, says head coach Krista Ramsay.  The competitive team has done more this year this ever before and has walked away with more then their fair share of medals and ribbons to prove it.  It was also a year of many firsts for the team.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” Ramsay said.  “They worked so hard.”
The total count of medals won by individuals and teams this year was 102, and those ranged from first to third place in a competition.  The number of ribbons won was 136.
The program, which has kids from the ages of five to 16, has a competitive team consisting of 22 girls from that age range.  In this past year alone they have travelled all over Alberta, from St. Albert to Canmore and several places in between, for competitions.
Ask any of the girls however, and their favourite place to visit was Florida, where they competed in their first ever Presidential Classic at Walt Disney World.  They walked away from that competition alone with 15 medals.
“It was a blast,” Ramsay said.  “We also got a nice vacation out of it.”
It was also their first year competing in provincials, which three  of the girls attended.  They walked away with a fifth and sixth place ribbon out of the entire province for their competitions.
However the club continued to face several of the same problems they faced last year, which all stem from a lack of space.  The club itself hosts over 300 kids.
“We just have no more room.  There’s nothing more we can give,” Ramsay explained.
However, in January 2014 they’re moving into the Energy Centre, where they space needs should finally be alleviated.
“We’re already designing it with them.  We’ve been discussing how much space we’ll need and so on,” Ramsay said.
Looking into the future, Ramsay has lots of ideas but also has several things to work out.  Twenty new girls want to join the team, but they only have the space for four more girls.
“Some girls (are) moving away, but that’s really the only space we have to open up,” Ramsay explained.
On the lighter side, next year Ramsay hopes for Cold Lake to host their first ever gymnastics competition.  She wants to bring in teams from all over, and help to make Cold Lake better known in the gymnastic community.
All in all it was a good year to be in the gymnastics club.  The girls travelled and competed, and got the medals and ribbons to show for it.  However if you ask any of the girls what their favourite part was, they’d probably tell you that it was that they got to go to Disney World.

Insufficient bus drivers in NLSD

Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun


In the past two to three years, almost every newspaper without fail as had an ad looking for new bus drivers for the Northern Lights School District.  There just aren’t enough bus drivers to go around, it seems.
This has begun to put a strain on the transportation director Matt Richter, as well as the other members of the transportation office.  With contractors constantly stepping down and employees hard to find, Richter and his co-workers have had to step up to get kids to school.
“I told the board we were going to hit the wall about a year ago,” Richter said. “And then we did.”
The NLSD has over a 100 routes that kids get picked up on their way to school.  However Matt Richter himself has filled in 50 fifty times in the past year for contractors who have dropped out at the last minute.
“It’s frustrating because it means I can’t get much else done.  My main job is the director of transportation but sometimes I’m barely able to do my job because of this,” Richter said.
This has also begun to put a strain on the parents of the kids.  Richter and his staff aren’t always enough to fill in the shoes of every bus driver who drops out, meaning the parents have to get their kids to school, despite whatever they need to get done that day.
However, the workers just aren’t there, Richter says.
“The problem is this area is so strapped for employees,” Richter said.  “We have lots of jobs, but not enough employees to fill them.”
The difficulty in finding a new driver is two fold.  For starters, it’s tough to find someone who has a licence to drive a bus.  Then it’s even more challenging to get them to work, as the pay is no longer as good as it was.
“The government cut off our fuel funding, so suddenly we had to pay for our own fuel.  That doesn’t leave much money to give to the drivers,” explained Richter.
In a recent hunt for a new bus driver, it took Richter between four to five months to find a new driver in Bonnyville.
“It’s not just us though; it’s every other industry as well,” Richter said.  “When my in-laws from Europe were here, they couldn’t believe all the help wanted signs they saw in store windows.”
Richter also has growing concerned that the downward trend might continue into the next school year.  During the summer he plans to look for new employees, but who knows if he’ll find any.
“Come September 1st, it’ll be very interesting,” Richter said.

Vancouver Aquarium gives local students a chance to look at sea wildlife

Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun

The Pacific Ocean may seem pretty far away from rural Alberta.  However students of LeGoff School had the ocean brought to them.  Thanks to the Vancouver Aquarium, students had a chance to touch, examine and learn about some sea creatures from habitats that can seem far away and from some that are closer to home.
“It’s great, because the chances some of these kids will get to the coast are slim to none,” Principal Maryanne Bushore said.  “It’s absolutely amazing.”
The Vancouver Aquariums’ AquaVan, a truck that tours western Canada between January and November, made this possible.   The van is sponsored by Cenovus Energy, and it tailors it’s program to the age group of students it’s working with.
Students got a chance to look at and touch starfish, crabs, sea urchins and snails, as well as several different pelts and skulls from sea animals like sharks and whales.  They learned about different areas of the Pacific Ocean and all sorts of animals that inhabit that area.
The kids were actively engaged with what they were learning.  They asked questions, looked at everything they could, and they learned quite a bit.
The AquaVan also explores the wetlands, an area of subject some of the students are learning about.
“It kind of recaps what the students have learned during the year,” Bushore said.
Lindsay Gibbons, one of the employees with the AquaVan, says it’s one of the best way to teach kids the morals of conservation.   Conservation is one of the main goals of the AquaVan, and how they go about doing it is what Gibbons says makes the difference.
“Because these kids get to actually see and touch these animals, it strengthens their connection with them,” Gibbons said. “They really understand what exactly they’re trying to save.”
The AquaVan is going to continue touring around the area, visiting other towns like Lac La Biche in the coming weeks.  It takes a break later in June and returns to British Columbia in August, before wrapping up its run in November in the Sunshine Coast.
If you’re interested in bringing the AquaVan to your school Gibbons promotes looking at for details.