August '12 Newsletter

Town Newsletter

August 2012                                Volume 7, Issue 4



Doug Topinka with the Award of Excellence he received in 2009

Town CAO Doug Topinka retires

After serving more than 10 years as Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Athabasca, Doug Topinka announced his retirement from the position in June. Doug’s final official day was July 6, although he was rehired to act as interim CAO until the Town finds a replacement.

Retirement had been an available option for Doug for the past six years. He decided that now was a good time to take the step.

“I just want to have the ability to sit back and enjoy life,” he explains. “Do some travelling, have more time for my grandchildren.”

Doug enjoys Athabasca and has no plans to leave the community.

“Both the community and the Councils over the years have been excellent. My biggest thanks go to the office staff. They are a great group with a good sense of humour.”

Looking back on a career that encompassed more than 36 years in communities in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, Doug shares a highlight that is particularly meaningful to him. In 2009, he was presented with the Award of Excellence from the Society of Local Government Managers.

“Receiving the Award of Excellence is a highlight of my career,” he acknowledges. “It is a high honour to be recognized by your peers with an award like this.”

The award is given to one recipient annually and recognizes their efforts, contributions and commitment to continuous learning in the pursuit of excellence and the desire to have a positive impact on or in the community in relation to the field of local government management.

Dedication to Town appreciated

Councillor Tim Verhaeghe appreciates Doug for his service and dedication to the Town of Athabasca.

“I thank Doug for his many years of dedicated service,” says Tim. “He is a very knowledgeable CAO and a well respected member of our team. I wish him the very best with his future endeavours.”

Doug will remain in the interim position until a new CAO has been found, providing the search does not go on for an extended period of time.


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Tim Verhaeghe, Town Councillor

Councillor Tim Verhaeghe: Pleased With Town Growth

Three key elements to a thriving and growing community are natural appeal, diverse industry and community spirit. Athabasca is fortunate to have these qualities in abundance.

Town Councillor Tim Verhaeghe first discovered the attraction of the community when visiting Athabasca during a high school field trip. Later, he moved to Athabasca to engage in business and professional activities and is now confident that this will be home for many years to come.

“I recommend Athabasca as a great place to raise a family, a great place to work and live, and a great place to retire,” says Tim. When asked if he considers himself to be a “lifer,” he replies, “You bet I am!”

He is not alone in his sentiments about Athabasca. Tim’s wife, Jennifer, is equally enthusiastic about the attractions and benefits of the community.

“Jennifer grew up in Vancouver,” he explains. “She always dreamed of living in a community like Athabasca. She absolutely loves it here and says she would never go back.”

Tim’s high school field trip to Athabasca made quite an impression on him and remains one of his fondest memories of the community.

“Our teacher took us on a three-day weekend canoeing trip on the Athabasca River,” he recalls. “We finished here in Athabasca. That’s when I formed a real appreciation for the beauty and magnificence of the Athabasca River and the Athabasca River Basin.”

Recent census results indicate that others are discovering the appeal of the town as well. Information released by Statistics Canada earlier this year shows that the population in the Town of Athabasca increased by almost 16 per cent between 2006 and 2011. The town has gone from a population of 2,575 in 2006 to 2,990 when the 2011 census was tallied.

“I am very pleased to see an increase in growth in our town population,” says Tim. “Especially considering that there were other communities in Alberta and across the country comparable in size and area to Athabasca that went down in population.”

This confirms his knowledge that Athabasca is a great place to live.

“We live at the centre of a very diverse region with the industries of forestry, agriculture, oil and gas and others contributing to our economy. Athabasca University is here and we have many other institutions, organizations and businesses that provide services, jobs and support to the community in a variety of ways. It’s no wonder people want to move here.”

Tim attributes Athabasca’s population growth in part to the town’s proximity to Edmonton and its geographical location between Edmonton and Fort McMurray, and in part to new business and industry coming to the region.

“New industry usually brings new families,” he says. “Looking around the region, they have the choice of several good communities. When they consider Athabasca, all of the amenities and features we have to offer, they can see that it is a family oriented community.”

In relation to the town’s proximity to Edmonton, the distance makes for easy day trips to take advantage of all that a big city has to offer, but it is not so close that commuting from Edmonton to work in Athabasca is all that appealing. It makes much more sense to live here.

Once here, there is much to do if a person makes the effort to look for it.

“I encourage people to take advantage of some of the activities we have,” says Tim. “Check out the Muskeg Creek Trails and the Rotary Trail system, go cross country skiing in the winter or throw a canoe or a kayak in the river during the summer. How about the gem of our community, our championship golf course? Even if you don’t play golf, you can enjoy lunch in the clubhouse with a beautiful view of the greens.”

Information about local activities and events is available from a variety of sources around town. Links on the home page of the Town website can be a good starting point for research.

Natural features and local amenities aside, it is ultimately the people of a community that make it what it is. Tim is proud to be serving as a Town Councillor and very proud of those individuals in the community who go above and beyond to make this a better place for all.


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About Fire Bans in Athabasca

A variety of factors can contribute to fire risks in the community and when conditions dictate, it is necessary to place an official ban on burning, whether it is in fire pits, burning barrels or any type of open fire.

Athabasca Fire Chief Denis Mathieu encourages area residents to stay alert for possible fire bans, especially during the drier seasons of the year. He thanks those residents who take extra precautions to prevent fires during those periods and he invites anyone who sees a potential hazard developing at any time of the year to report it immediately.

“We receive good feedback from the public,” says Denis. “I very much appreciate the quick response we get from people.”

Throughout the year, he monitors the areas in town that are at higher risk for fires. When the level of risk warrants it, he will advise Town Administration and together they will make the decision to enforce a town-wide fire ban.

“Springtime is when the biggest fire hazard often exists,” Denis explains. “In town, it’s the ravines and the river valley that are the biggest concern. The level of fire hazard in those areas weighs into my recommendation to call a fire ban in town.”

When a fire ban is in place, the Town will post signs, typically by the Town Welcome signs. Athabasca County does something similar to advise county residents of county fire bans.

Denis notes that since burning trash and other debris is not allowed in town to begin with, a fire ban within the town will typically only affect the use of fire pits and any fire permits that have been issued.

Every region of the province and every community is different, and local conditions can vary, so each region and municipality is autonomous in determining the local level of fire hazard and the need for a fire ban; although, in extreme conditions, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) may initiate a blanket ban covering a broader region of the province.

Information about fire conditions and bans in Athabasca and around the province can be found on the Alberta Fire Bans website and the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development website.

Fire bans remain in place until the situation improves. In Athabasca, before a fire ban is lifted, Denis likes to see a significant improvement in the conditions that initially brought on the ban.

“We consider the temperature, the humidity, when the last rain occurred and the amount of standing water,” he says. “The time of year is also a factor in the decision.”

Decisions to place or remove fire bans in town are generally made in consultation and cooperation with Athabasca County and ESRD.

Fire hazards to watch for

Being sensitive to possible fire hazards in the community, Denis offers a couple of particularly troublesome and potentially serious hazards to watch out for.

“Flicking cigarette butts out the vehicle window!” he declares. “That’s my biggest beef. People don’t seem to understand how serious that can be. Just don’t do it.”

All terrain and off road vehicles present another hazard.

“When operating ATVs, keep the muffler clean,” advises Denis. “Remove the build up of muskeg, etc. Mufflers get hot and can ignite any combustible materials sticking to them. That can spark a grass fire and in dry conditions it can spread very quickly.”

Easy access to fireworks in various retail and commercial establishments is another concern for Denis.

“There is no by-law governing the sale of fireworks and there is a big debate about it across the province,” he says. “I would like to restrict the sale of fireworks during a fire ban.”

Whatever the potential fire hazards are, whether environmental or human related, residents are encouraged to show reason and caution when the risk is present.

Watch for ways to avoid or reduce the risk of fire, and be sure to immediately report any potentially hazardous conditions. Call the Town Office at 780-675-2063.

For emergencies only, call 911.


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