Feature Stories

Himalayan Balsam: Pretty Flower, Noxious Weed

Photos of Himalayan Balsam Weed, taken at the Cornwall Retention Pond last summer,
provided by Warren Zyla, Parks Foreman, Town of Athabasca

Local gardeners looking to beautify their yards this growing season may be taken by the visual appeal of the Himalayan balsam (impatiens glandulifera), a fast growing plant with an orchid shaped flower. However, this non-native summer annual is classed as a “prohibited noxious weed” by the Province of Alberta’s Weed Control Act.

Last summer, after discovering the invasive weed here in Athabasca, three problem areas were identified and Town staff set about to remove the outlawed plants. In the process, truckloads were hauled away.

The problem areas were the Cornwall Retention Pond, The Athabasca Composting Site, and Muskeg Creek Ravine along 54 St., near 45 Ave.

Hoping to “nip this issue in the bud” and prevent it from spreading further, Town of Athabasca Parks Foreman Warren Zyla is calling upon residents to be on the lookout for Himalayan balsam.

“The Weed Control Act prohibits the intentional planting of this noxious weed,” Warren cautions. “People love Himalayan balsam because it attracts hummingbirds and bees and it grows easily with no maintenance, but the Weed Control Act says it must be destroyed.”

While there are no chemicals or selective herbicides registered for use with this type of weed, the good news is the roots are shallow and the plant can easily be pulled up by hand. Once the plants are pulled up, they must be disposed of carefully to prevent accidental spread. Mature seed capsules will explode when disturbed and can eject the seeds five or six metres or more from the plant.

When residents see these plants on Town property, the Town Office should be advised. Plants found on private property must be dealt with by the property owner. Warren advises residents to pull the plants up, bag them and take them to the local landfill for proper disposal.

“Don’t take them to the Athabasca Composting Site and do not dump them in ravines,” he warns. “Once this weed gets into areas like that, water run-off can carry the seeds into the river or the river valley.”

Whether Himalayan balsam has appeared in Athabasca by accident or by intent, it has been identified as a serious threat to native vegetation, to wildlife habitat and to waterfowl breeding grounds and must be controlled.


Identifying the Menace

Himalayan balsam came from India and was originally introduced to Canada as an ornamental. It is highly adaptive and thrives in nutrient rich soils of disturbed riparian habitats and wet woodlands where it grows and matures quickly.

The stems of this weed are smooth, hairless and tinged red-purple with whorls of three leaves twirling up the stem. Stems grow one to three metres tall and are easily broken.

The leaves are lance shaped or elliptic with pointed tips and round bases. They are 6 to 15 cm long and have sharply serrated edges.

The flowers are 2.5 to 4 cm long with five bi-laterally symmetrical petals. They appear in shades of pink through purple, and occasionally white.

Since the growth and rapid spread of Himalayan balsam is known to be detrimental to the environment and native habitat, Warren encourages residents to be vigilant in their watchfulness for this noxious weed. Deal with it where appropriate or report it to the Town Office.

Gardeners looking for an alternative might consider Husker’s Red Beard-Tongue or Pink Sensation Monkshood.

For more information about this and other invasive species and prohibited noxious plants, please visit the Alberta Invasive Species Council website, or the Alberta Weed Monitoring Network.


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Town Budget in Process

Town Council is currently working through the 2015 budget process. While a change in the reporting format has received a mixed reaction from Councillors, Town CAO Josh Pyrcz believes it will be a beneficial change.

 “(One) difference in the process is the highlighting of grant allocations for easier accounting at the end of the year and for transparency,” explains Josh.

The format has changed to reflect the Multiplex accounts now being done by the Multiplex, removal of grants that no longer exist, removal of unnecessary transactions, such as vehicle charge backs, and breaking out accounts to be more in line and specific to the service level being provided.

“The advantage is an easier year end process,” says Josh. “There is a way to go yet in terms of further allocating capital expenses to specific projects.”

The process includes a series of three budget meetings open to the public. The first was held on March 24. The following two are scheduled for April 8 and 9, 7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., at the Town Office.

“Typically, municipalities hold budget meetings in public,” notes Josh. “This is done for increased open and transparent government. People feel like they are able to attend and hear the discussions, questions of Council, and the explanations of Administration.

“It is important that Council hold Administration accountable for spending and the public hold Council accountable for the authorization to spend. Administration is solely tasked with preparing the budget, but Council controls the purse strings.”

With or without scheduled public meetings, the public is always able to provide feedback at any time through their elected officials or administration.

“In future years, having more interactive sessions will be important,” says Josh. “With the budget preparation starting earlier in the year, it will provide for better access to information for both Council and citizens. Hopefully, that will lead to more engagement.”


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False Alarms can be Costly


Recent reports presented to Town Council by the local RCMP and the Fire Department have highlighted concerns over growing numbers of false alarms in the community. False alarms are costly to the departments affected, and may take the responders away from legitimate emergencies.

“It is critical that everyone in the community do their part to prevent the unnecessary use of emergency resources,” notes Town CAO Josh Pyrcz.

In many cases, false alarms are caused by faulty equipment or by individuals not properly trained or educated in the use of their alarm systems. Regular maintenance, periodic testing, and effective training are recommended to reduce the instances of unnecessary emergency calls.

Town Council has directed Town Administration to develop a by-law governing false alarms in Athabasca. The purpose of the by-law will be to make people aware of the issue, and to encourage them to make certain their alarm systems and practices are up-to-date. Once the by-law is prepared, approved by Council and enacted, it may include warnings for first offences and fines for repeat offences. This has yet to be determined. Admin expects to have the by-law in place this fall.


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Spring Fire Safety is Everyone's responsibility

Press Release

ATHABASCA, AB – With spring quickly approaching; the Athabasca Fire Department is reminding all residents that with the disappearance of the snow the risk of outdoor fires greatly increases. Grass, shrubs and trees left dry from winter stasis are easily ignited and fires that occur can spread rapidly and be difficult to contain. Residents can do their part to prevent outdoor fires in a few simple ways.

Get a permit. Within town limits all outdoor fires including fire pits are required to be permitted. Fire pits are inspected by the local Peace Officer against a set of guidelines to ensure proper design and location. Permits for all other open fires such a brush piles or leaves are reviewed and approved by the Fire Chief on a case by case basis. These permitting measures are in place to ensure that outdoor fires are conducted in a safe responsible manner and that the fire department is aware of burning to prevent accidental responses. Applications for fire pits and burn permits are available at the town administration office.

Ensure all fires are monitored at all times, fire suppression tools such as garden hoses or buckets of water are available and that the fire is completely extinguished before you leave. Generally soaking down the ashes, stirring them and soaking them again is a good way to ensure fires are adequately cooled. Depending on the material and size of the fire additional stirring and soaking may be required.

Additional information regarding fire pit guidelines is available on the Town of Athabasca website at www.town.athabasca.ab.ca/content/fire-pits.

For more information contact Travis Shalapay, Captain, Athabasca Fire Rescue: (780)675-2063 AFD@athabasca.ca


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Town to Address Issue of Non-Permitted Signs


The Town of Athabasca has identified more than 50 signs around town that do not have approved development permits in place. Owners are being given the opportunity to obtain the required permits before enforcement of the governing Town bylaw begins to take effect.

“We are hoping to encourage everyone to come in and obtain the required permit,” explains Rachel Ramey, Development Officer for the Town. “We will run an educational program for the month of April, including ads in the local newspaper, on the Town Facebook page, and on the Town website.”

Follow-up letters will be sent to the individual property owners the following month, and bylaw enforcement will begin the month after that. A breach in any portion of the bylaw governing permits for signs could result in a violation ticket. Tickets are $100 for the first offence, and $150 for the second and subsequent offences. (Each day that a breach of the bylaw has occurred may be considered to be a separate offence.)

Business owners with onsite signs, groups or organizations with portable signs, and individuals who have placed any signs in the community are advised to make certain they have the proper permits in place. If necessary, they can check with Rachel at the Town office to verify their permits, or to make arrangements for permits.

Details are available at the Town office or on the Town website describing the types of signs permitted, the general sign regulations, and the permit requirements. Online, please refer to Land Use Bylaw 13-10.

The types of signs listed in the bylaw are varied and include:

  • A-Frame
  • Canopy
  • Freestanding
  • Portable
  • Projecting
  • Roof
  • Wall
  • Signs in or Adjacent to Residential Districts
  • Institutional
  • Shopping Centres
  • Inflatable

The bylaw describes a sign as being “any visual medium, including its structure and other component parts, illuminated or not illuminated, which is used or capable of being used, on a permanent or temporary basis, to identify or convey information, or to advertise or attract attention to a product, service, place, activity, person, institution or business. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, signs may include banners, placards, and painted messages, but not national flags, interior window displays of merchandise, or signs painted on or attached to a motor vehicle intended for use on a public roadway.”

Signs erected within the Town of Athabasca are required to have a development permit. Please review Bylaw 13-10 online for details outlining the permit requirements and the application process, or check with the Town office.


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Household Appliance Round-up Begins April 24


Regional residents are reminded that the Household Appliance Round-up runs this year from April 24 to May 3. Old appliances can be taken to any of the waste transfer sites in Athabasca County.

Residents of the Town of Athabasca can take their appliances to the Athabasca Transfer Site, north of the river and north of the Athabasca Bridge. Check the Athabasca Regional Waste website for hours of operation.

Refrigerators, freezers, kitchen stoves, dishwashers, microwaves, clothes washers and dryers are all included in the round-up. No fees will be charged, except for appliances with Freon. There is a charge of $10 each for items with Freon and examples include fridges, freezers, water coolers and air-conditioning units.


eWaste Round-up

While you are getting rid of your old appliances, why not divert and recycle your old computers, televisions and leftover paint items, too?

eWaste items can be taken to any transfer site in Athabasca County any time of the year during regular operating hours. There is no cost to drop off these items. For convenience, Athabasca residents can deliver their old electronics and leftover paints to the Athabasca Transfer Site, north of Town, across the river.


Reduce, Recycle and Divert!

Don’t forget all of the other recyclable items you can take to regional transfer sites to do your part for the environment. To save time at the site, be organized and sort your recyclables in advance. These can include:

  • Newspaper
  • Magazines
  • Office Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Boxboard
  • Plastic Bags
  • Tin Cans
  • Plastic Containers
  • Used Oil Filters
  • Used Oil Containers

For more information, call the Athabasca Transfer Site at 780-675-1117.


Athabasca Compost Site

Town residents can dispose of compostable material at the Athabasca Compost Site, located near the east end of the Athabasca Bridge, before crossing the river.

Signs at the site indicate what materials are accepted and where they are to be placed.

Acceptable compost materials include leaves, grass clippings and garden refuse.

Acceptable chipping materials include trees, tree limbs and brush.

Items not to be dropped off at the site include building materials, household trash and plastic. Only compostable and chipping material is allowed.

One note of caution: do not take noxious weeds or prohibited noxious weeds such as Himalayan Balsam to the compost site as seeds may wash into the river or the river valley and spread further.

Prohibited noxious weeds like Himalayan Balsam should be bagged securely and taken to the Athabasca Waste Transfer Site for proper disposal.

Read more about the threat of Himalayan Balsam in the April 2015 edition of the Town newsletter.

For information about the Athabasca Compost Site, call the Town Office at 780-675-2063.


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Town Acknowledged for Renewable Energy Initiative


Demonstrating an interest in helping to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the environment, the Town of Athabasca participates in a renewable energy program run by the Alberta Municipal Services Corporation (AMSC).

The AMSC Energy Program allows participants to purchase wind-generated green energy to displace emissions from coal and gas-fired generation, lowering air contaminants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and greenhouse gasses.

“The Town is proud to have been a part of this program for the past several years,” notes Melody Wolansky, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Athabasca.

In February, the Town received a letter of recognition from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) along with a Renewable Energy Certificate from TransAlta Corporation acknowledging the value of the Town’s energy purchase for January to December 2013.

In the letter, AUMA CEO John McGowan writes, “We would like to recognize your dedication to the environment with your decision to purchase 20% Green Power as part of your total annual electricity consumption in the 2009 AMSC Energy Program.”

The letter explains that the Town’s purchase of 598 MWh of green power in 2013 has contributed to the reduction of 526 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is similar to taking 103 cars off the road for one year or planting 13,468 trees that have grown for 10 years.

“Your choice has offset a significant amount of greenhouse gases produced while generating your electricity; thank you!” writes AUMA CEO McGowan.

Information about the AUMA or the AMSC Energy Program can be found on the AUMA website.


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Off-Leash Dog Park to Re-Open in Athabasca

After a successful trial run last fall, Athabasca’s off-leash dog park is set to re-open just as soon as winter’s snow disappears and the site is deemed suitable.

Once the word is given, dogs will again be allowed to run free within the fenced borders of the Jubilee Park ball diamond, located across from Edwin Parr Composite School.

Owners of the canines will be asked to observe the same user guidelines as last year, with the basic rules being posted onsite. A sign-in sheet will be provided to help measure and monitor the popularity of the park, and bags and receptacles for pet waste will be available.

Residents are reminded that dogs (and cats) in Athabasca must be up-to-date with their shots and licensing. When an owner is out with a pet, if the animal is not wearing a tag, the owner should carry the animal’s license documentation with them.

When Athabasca’s off-leash dog park is ready to open, it will be announced. For more information, contact Shaun Woloschuk, Peace Officer, at 780-675-2063.


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Community Grant Program

The Town of Athabasca has a Community Grant Program designed to provide a fair and equitable process for the granting of financial assistance to a maximum of $500.00 for events that benefit the community.

Eligible applicants may apply for funding in advance of or up to thirty days after the event provided the application is received within the same calendar year. Applications are forwarded to the Community Grants Committee for consideration.

The committee will review applications and will present their recommendations to Town Council where the final decision will be made on each application presented.

Definitions of “Community Event,” “Eligible Event” and “Eligible Applicant” are provided in the Policy Statement, available at the Town Office and on the Town website.

Complete guidelines and procedures are included in the Policy Statement.

For more information, contact the Town Office by telephone at 780-675-2063.


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Committees of Council


When Town Councillors sign on to their elected positions, they pretty much know what kind of commitment they’re getting into. Even so, the demands can be overwhelming.

Some issues and decisions can be controversial. In the heat of the moment, critics sometimes forget that Councillors are people, too, with families, businesses and professions, community and social interests, all requiring their time and attention on top of their councillor duties.

Through it all, Councillors focus on doing their best for the community.

Among their various duties, Councillors are given a number of Committees of Council to watch over or participate in. They may volunteer for some, while others are assigned by the Mayor. Additional committees may arise at times. Here is the current list:

  • Municipal Planning Commission
  • Subdivision and Development Appeal Board
  • Riverfront Design Review Committee
  • Greater North Foundation
  • Library Building Committee
  • Northern Lights Library System (NLLS)
  • Family and Community Support Services (FCSS)
  • Northern Lakes College
  • New School Project Steering Committee
  • Community Transportation Committee
  • Community Grants Committee
  • Tourism and Economic Development Committee
  • Dr. Brown Scholarship Committee
  • Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee
  • Administration Committee
  • Intermunicipal Development
  • Communication Committee
  • Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society
  • Athabasca Landing Pool Administration Committee
  • Magnificent River Rats Committee
  • Athabasca Regional Waste Services Commission
  • Aspen Regional Water Services Commission

For the list of Councillor assignments, please visit the Committees of Council page on the Town website.


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