City’s air quality still falls short of standards

The City of Red is making some headway in its efforts to clear the air but it still falls short on meeting some federal standards.

The City of Red is making some headway in its efforts to clear the air but it still falls short on meeting some federal standards.

Nancy Hackett, the city’s Environmental Initiatives supervisor, told council on Monday that Red Deer and Edmonton are the only two Alberta cities that are exceeding the 2.5 particulate matter levels. The readings have caught the province’s attention, which triggers an air management plan process that may occur in 2015 or 2016.

Hackett said the Parkland Airshed Management Zone, which runs the city’s air monitoring station, would have a better answer on why Red Deer and Edmonton are missing the mark. Anytime there is combustion or forest fires would ramp up the levels, she said.

“It’s very difficult for the scientists to determine why we have this issue,” she said. “PAMZ is trying to do more intensive monitoring but right now they do not have a definite answer as to why, but Alberta Environment does want it.”

In her annual report on the city’s idle-free campaign, Hackett told council that Red Deer is seeing some behavioral changes since the educational campaign launched in 2010.

She said more schools, businesses and institutions have joined the program.

“Unnecessary vehicle idling contributes harmful pollutants to the air,” said Hackett. “It is certainly linked to air quality concerns and greenhouse gas emissions but also vehicle noise, vehicle theft and fuel consumption, which all take resources out of our community.”

The program promotes “a minute or less is best” for idling a vehicle. Hackett told council in 2013-14 there were many achievements and progress, including getting more schools, institutions and businesses on board with the program.

Hackett said growth poses a problem for all its environmental targets in its Environmental Master Plan. The city has edged near the 100,000, reaching 98,858 according to its 2014 municipal census. Hackett said other growing communities in Alberta are able to meet the particulate matter standard.

“There are a lot of other growing cities in Alberta,” she said. “It is about using our vehicles more wisely as we grow. We may have more vehicles on the road but perhaps by not idling or idling less we can make a difference as we grow.”

Some councillors raised concerns when told 24 businesses did not respond to the city’s request to join the idle-free coalition. The city had sent out letters to 24 companies that identified themselves as the “greenest” employers and companies in Red Deer.

None of the 24 businesses responded.

Councillors were disappointed with the result and felt that the city approach the head offices of the businesses.

Council directed administration to continue with the community education program until 2016 when the Environmental Master Plan is up for its five-year-review. At the same time the city will research other tools and strategies, impacts on the city and other municipalities’ efforts to curb idling in the city. Next year a report will come back to council for consideration.

Councillors reasoned working with the public was the best way to go as opposed to implementing a hard-to-enforce bylaw banning vehicle idling.

Most councillors said continued education in the community is the key to success.

Coun. Lynne Mulder said she was happy they were not talking about a bylaw.

Mulder was pleased that the city would continue to look at other strategies before considering a bylaw because it would be like hitting the residents over the head with a hammer.

While Coun. Paul Harris had supported a bylaw in the past, Harris said he pleased to see there has been some progress in the community. Harris told council that he has received feedback about city vehicles idling on the streets.

Most councillors agreed that there needs to be a clear understanding in the community about which city-owned vehicles are exempt from the program. Harris suggested putting a sticker on vehicles that would identify exempted vehicles.

Harris said the city needs to toot its own horn about the idle-free work that it is doing to support the change including installing electric car chargers. He also said one day council will have to have a conversation about the drive-thru restaurants.

Coun. Frank Wong said they need to do more to target businesses and schools. Wong said there should be a park and ride for events such as for the Westerner Days and hockey games.

In other council news:

lA new six-year collective deal between the City of Red Deer and the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1190, was sealed on Monday.

The agreement is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011 and runs until Dec. 31, 2016. The wage adjustment amounts to a 15.07 per cent increase this year. In 2015 and 2016, the employees will receive a 2.25 per cent and a 2.5 per cent increase respectively.

The contract applies to 182 employees – firefighters, emergency dispatchers and prevention officers. IAFF members ratified the agreement on July 20. The last contract expired on Dec. 31, 2010 and the parties have been in negotiations since October 2011.

Councillors called the contract fair and equitable.

Kristy Svoboda, director of Human Resources, said the up front wage increase may seem significant but it aligns the employees with wages of comparative mid-sized cities. Svoboda said they are very pleased that there is six-year collective agreement because it will provide stability.

“We value our Emergency Services workers,” said Svoboda. “We are pleased that we have a new collective agreement.”

lCity council approved a $30,000 funding request from the Recreation, Parks and Culture department for Red Deer’s bid to host the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

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