The most recent Harrison Hot Springs Village Council meeting descended into a heated shouting match during the public question period after the council voted 3-1 to move forward with a fountain and aeration project for Harrison Lake Lagoon.
The lagoon has long been a source of controversy for the village due to safety, environmental and aesthetic concerns. Based the backlash via local social media groups as well as the tensions at the post-Labour Day weekend meeting, this latest project seems to be adding fuel to the fire.
The fountain project came before council as a part of the ongoing Resort Development Strategy. According to a report to the council from operation manager Tyson Koch, the fountain is designed to not only enhance the tourist experience during the peak season but during the off-season as well; village staff specifically noted it could be used during the Lights by the Lake Festival during the holiday season.
“There is added importance to support off-season tourism at this time to promote economic recovery after the business closures earlier in the year related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report to council read. “Tourism Harrison is significantly expanding their Lights by the Lake Festival displays around the lagoon in 2020 and a lagoon fountain with LED lighting will complement the displays.”
Depending on the selection of nozzle, Koch said the water could spray anywhere from 29 to 80 feet (8.8 to 24.3 metres) in the air. Operational hours for the fountain will be discussed at a future date.
Koch recognized the public scrutiny concerning the quality of the water; this summer’s E. Coli levels hit extreme highs due in part to contamination via goose feces and the hot, dry weather. Through the introduction of a fountain and its subsequent aeration, village staff are hoping to help mitigate bacteria levels and increase safety.
The project is divided into two contracts: Camrose County-based Pro Pond Canada is approved for up to $109,000 for the project itself while an additional $75,000 has been approved for electrical upgrades and environmental consulting. Both contracts are to be funded through Resort Municipality Initiative funds, according to the resolution. The total cost allowed for this project amounts to approximately $184,000. Koch estimated the cost for hydro for the fountain would be about $1,000 per month.
Fountain installation is set to take place during the off season in hopes of having it ready by the holidays. The fountain’s location will be away from swimming areas, identified by swim grids for the protection of the public.
Coun. Ray Hooper, the lone opposing vote to the fountain project, had a number of concerns, the chief of which was public safety in addition to noise levels and possible environmental impacts – or, in the case of E Coli levels, lack thereof.
“I can’t support these recommendations,” Hooper said. “I have a lot of concerns about it.”
Hooper wasn’t the only one with concerns. John Allen, a regular of Harrison council meetings, vehemently opposed the installation of the fountain. Allen slammed the addition of the fountain as a significant drowning risk.
“Is council aware that putting air into a water body dramatically increases the danger of drowning?” Allen said during the question period before the meeting closed. “anybody who is in the water, falls into that water or accidentally swims [too close] will find very quickly that the specific gravity of the water is altered to the point they will go to the bottom and drown.”
Mayor Leo Facio countered that those involved in drowning incidents in Harrison Lake have been due to a lack of life preserver such as life jackets or due to intoxication.
“Everybody is responsible for themselves,” Facio said. He added other areas that have installed similar fountains have had no issue with drowning.
Allen said he’d offered a number of years ago to clean the lagoon of heavy underwater vegetation and to rid the area of geese and extended the offer yet again during Tuesday’s meeting; he felt he received insufficient response when he pitched the idea roughly five years ago.
“All you have to do is scrap this idiotic idea,” Allen said, referring to the fountain. He said he would pay back everything the city would pay him if his cleanup efforts didn’t work.
In other council business, Coun. Samantha Piper reminded the public that school zones are back in effect and cautioned motorists to drive carefully, particularly between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The council reminds the public that September 30 is Orange Shirt Day, a day to wear an orange shirt and honour and promote awareness for Indigenous children in Canada who were sent to residential schools.
October is the month for Purple Light Nights, a widespread event designed to bring awareness to the ongoing issue of domestic violence.
In an effort to curb COVID-19 spread, those who attend public meetings will be required to register their contact information. If you have symptoms of a cold or of COVID-19 (fever, coughing, fatigue), please stay home.
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