Monday July 28, 2014

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Five big stories in 2013

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Premier Brad Wall (fifth from left) and Estevan MLA Doreen Eagles (second from left) joined City of Estevan department heads and city council members after Wall revealed that the government was seriously looking at twinning Highways 39 and 6 from Estevan to Regina.

This past year once again offered many triumphant stories in southeast Saskatchewan, along with historical achievements and milestones, and difficult moments.

Local residents cheered when Estevan was awarded the 2016 Saskatchewan Summer Games and celebrated when the provincial government announced plans to twin Highways 39 and 6.

They also vented after an unruly fan nearly spoiled the biggest concert in Estevan's history. Residents looked forward to the completion of the new carbon capture and storage project at the Boundary Dam Power Station, and watched as the community continued to grow.

*Government announces twinning plans: The story from this past year that will arguably have the largest impact on the community for years to come was the late August revelation that the provincial government intends to twin Highways 39 and 6 from Estevan to Regina.

Southeast residents had been clamouring for the highways to be twinned for years. Many people opted to use Highways 47 and 33 to travel from Estevan to Regina.

A "Time to Twin" committee, consisting of several local residents, was formed in 2009, and they spent four years lobbying the government. Committee members were busy in the first six months of this year, as they met with Highways Minister Don McMorris during the spring, and they spear-headed a public meeting in late May.

The provincial government announced plans in May to twin 39 from Estevan to the junction of Highways 39 and 18. Over 7,500 vehicles use that segment of 39 each day, and the average daily traffic count has been soaring by several hundred vehicles each year.

But that wasn't enough for local residents. The Time to Twin committee continued its efforts, and a petition on the change.org website attracted thousands of signatures.

Then in August, local resident Jackie Fitzsimmons organized "Heaven's Flowered Highway." Fitzsimmons urged people to place memorial crosses and flower arrangements alongside Highways 39 and 6. She then made a round trip from Estevan to Regina on August 25, and filmed all the tributes. Footage was sent to the provincial government.

Five days after "Heaven's Flowered Highway," Premier Brad Wall announced the provincial government's desire to twin Highways 39 and 6 from Estevan to Regina. It's not a done deal, Wall said at the time, but Wall believes that dramatic increases in traffic volumes, particularly heavy trucks, are evidence of the need for twinning.

Wall's announcement was lauded by the Time to Twin committee, but they also want to see Highway 39 twinned to North Portal, even though daily traffic volumes are lower near North Portal.

The twinning of Highways 39 and 6 was included in the provincial Throne speech in October.

It's expected to be several years before twinning is completed.

*Estevan will host 2016 Games: Estevan's bid for the 2016 Saskatchewan Summer Games was a focal point of the community for much of the year. In late November, the efforts of so many people were fulfilled when Estevan was awarded the event.

The bid effort started in April with an organizational meeting. At that time, the bid committee members were chosen, and the committee co-chairs, Brian Smith and Brian Senchuk, were selected. The committee would spend the next five months preparing the bid document, and generating support for the games.

A key component of Estevan's games bid was the construction of a new track and field facility at the Estevan Comprehensive School, which would have been constructed regardless of whether the bid was successful. The City of Estevan, the South East Cornerstone Public School Division and the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division came forward with financial support.

The bid document was submitted in September, and a few days later, Estevan cracked the short-list, along with Swift Current, Humboldt and Melfort.

The Saskatchewan Games Council's site selection committee visited Estevan in early November, and they were greeted by an enthusiastic community, leaving no doubt that Estevan wanted the games. The selection committee attended a pep rally at the Estevan Comprehensive School and a luncheon at the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute; and they toured the different venues that will be used for the Games.

The announcement that Estevan would be hosting the 2016 Games came less than three weeks later. The site selection committee lauded the city's desire to host the games, the community's facilities and the desire to construct the track.

The 2016 Games are slated for July 24 to 30. Many of Saskatchewan's top young athletes will be competing.

*Motley Crue rocks Spectra Place: The story that garnered Estevan the most national and international attention came in May during a Motley Crue concert.

It was arguably the biggest concert in Estevan's history, and unquestionably the most memorable, for both right and wrong reasons. The concert attracted more than 3,000 raucous spectators to Spectra Place.

Canadian rock band Big Wreck was the opening act, but almost all of the fans were there for Motley Crue. The infamous American hard rock group took to the stage with their infamous Death March, and not only did Motley Crue play many of their biggest hits, they also had a drum set on a roller coaster loop, dancing girls and a brilliant light show.

But during one of the final songs, "Primal Scream," a 40-year-old male from Manor ran onto the stage, and bumped into Motley Crue lead guitarist Mick Mars, who was celebrating his 62nd birthday. Mars suffers from an arthritic condition, ankylosing spondylitis, and was knocked down. The fan was tackled and struck by Motley Crue band member Nikki Sixx.

Motley Crue left the stage while Mars and a security guard received treatment. They returned to the stage and wrapped up the concert with a couple more songs.

Earlier in the day, Sixx garnered attention for other reasons, when he had an encounter with local double amputee Alex Neumann at Estevan's skate park. Sixx marvelled at Neumann's ability to skateboard without any legs, and then posed for pictures with Neumann. The experience was chronicled on Sixx's blog.

*Clean coal nears completion: The integrated carbon capture and storage project at the Boundary Dam Power Station moved towards completion in 2013.

The project's carbon capture island is virtually finished, and it is now into the testing phase. It is expected to be into production by May.

The retrofit of Unit 3 at Boundary Dam is slated to be completed soon, too, and resume power production in March. But that component of the project had its challenges.

The rebuild was temporarily suspended in July, when workers thought they found asbestos. The suspicions proved to be unfounded, and the project resumed.

Then in October, it was announced that the Unit 3 rebuild was about $115 million over-budget, countering SaskPower's previous claims that the project was on budget.

As the project neared completion, the number of contractors on the site declined.

Also at Boundary Dam, Unit 1 was retired in May. It was one of the oldest coal-fired generating units in the province. SaskPower viewed a retrofit of Unit 1 as economically unfeasible.

The carbon capture test facility at the Shand Power Station moved forward last year. Among the highlights from the year were the arrival of some of the components, and a ground-breaking ceremony.

*Resurfacing carried a cost: Highway 47 through the northern half of Estevan was resurfaced in 2013, creating a smooth driving surface on what had previously been a decrepit arterial road.

A long, tough winter took its toll on many roads in the city, particularly 13th Avenue and Souris Avenue North from Sixth Street to Wellock Road – the roads that comprise Highway 47 through northern Estevan.

Pothole patching wasn't going to be a viable solution, and so council considered several resurfacing options. They initially settled on a shave-and-pave that would have a shelf life of five to eight years.

But council eventually opted for a full rebuild. Thirteenth Avenue was resurfaced from Sixth Street to King Street. Not only was Souris Avenue North from King Street to Wellock Road also resurfaced, but curbing was also enhanced, catch basins were installed and boulevards were reduced in size.

To pay for the project, Estevan City Council approved a two-mill increase in May, which generated about $1.7 million for the City's coffers.

Other components of the project have been tabled for the 2014 budget.

Among the other highlights from the past 12 months were:

Services were suspended in Arcola: Emergency and inpatient services at the Arcola Health Centre were suspended for much of the first four months of 2013 due to a physician shortage. They were restored on April 22.


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