The scenic walking trails snaking throughout Hay River are about to receive a facelift.
Hay River town council decided to stick with original plans from the 2013/2013 budget and allocate $100,000 towards upgrading the local trail system. That figure will be matched by a grant from the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, as was agreed upon at budget time last December, making the total amount of upgrades worth $200,000.
Work on the trails – including safety maintenance such as removing fallen trees and clearing visible roots – will begin “as soon as possible,” said Ian Frankton, the town’s new director of recreation and community services, and will continue until winter weather brings work to a halt.
“We’ve got some costing in that’s been done for some of the product on the trail…some earth, wood shavings,” Frankton said. “Potentially we’ll be lining up crews for cleanup in the areas that have been indicated as needing some work…That’s what the $100,000 from us will do, address the ‘gaps,’ if you will, in the trail system.”
Funding for the maintenance came with some debate, after the Trans Canada Trail Foundation revealed it actually had funds for a grant totalling $207,000 – if the town could match that. This meant over $400,000 could have gone into trail upgrades, including grant money from the foundation.
At the meeting on Aug. 26, council was split over what to do. The motion on the floor to re-allocate an additional $107,000 for the trails – bringing up the total to match the TCT donation – was defeated when Mayor Andrew Cassidy broke the tie by supporting councillors Donna Lee Jungkind, Keith Dohey, Roger Candow and Vince McKay in opposition.
Deputy mayor Brad Mapes, Jason Coakwell, Mike Maher and Kandis Jameson were in favour.
It was decided the original plan for the trails would hold, with $100,000 coming from the town, plus a $100,000 from the trail foundation.
“I realize turning away free dollars is very unpalatable, hence the split decision from council, but given we had not budgeted an extra $107,000 and the proposed recommendation was to take the money from another project, I was not comfortable committing our town to this expense,” Cassidy wrote in a Facebook comment on a post by a trail user unhappy about the council’s decision.
Former councillor Ken Latour, who served as the town’s acting mayor in 2012 after Kelly Schofield’s sudden resignation, took to social media outlets and expressed his discontent with the lost dollars.
“It’s my belief that when the town is in a position to double their investment in local infrastructure, it should go for it. This town, like many small municipalities, has challenges with aging infrastructure across the board, so when the opportunity is there to get funding from outside the town to help rebuild some if that infrastructure, I think it should be seized,” Latour wrote on Facebook.
“To the town’s credit, work has been done on the trails in the last few years. There has been a fair amount of planning, surveying and designing solutions around trying to connect trails, especially around the tricky area from the bridge to Pinto’s…I still think, though, that it is a shame to turn away free money, even if it was not budgeted for. Budget reallocations do get made throughout the year, and there were some capital dollars (water main repairs) that were not going to be spent, so funds had been identified and the trails could use the investment.”
According to Frankton, if the reallocation was to happen, the money would have been taken from the emergency mains repair fund – a project aimed at fixing water lines under the highway.
He noted that with $400,000, the scale of work done on the trails would have been larger, but that the town will still be able to fill the gaps “to an extent” with $200,000.
“Going into next year, we’ll definitely have more of a focus of how we will maintain the (trail) system,” Frankton said.
Latour in the meantime has started a group on Facebook for trail users to gather and share stories, photos and concerns. The group is called the Hay River Trail Users Group (TUG).