Prince Albert city council has no plans to reverse a decision to put an electronic billboard at the 15th Street West and Second Avenue intersection.
A motion to delay installation and wait for a report from administration failed to pass during Monday’s executive committee meeting, meaning the project will go ahead as planned.
Mayor Greg Dionne said the sign, which is being paid for by Husky Energy as part of an apology for the 2016 oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River, is a positive development that’s received overwhelming support from the community. He also said the location is ideal because it’s one of the busiest in Prince Albert.
“You want to have it in a high visibility place,” Dionne said following Monday’s meeting. “You don’t want to put it in the bush where nobody can see it, and that is one of the highest visibility (intersections). For the purposes that we want to use it, for our own use and especially for the community clubs … it opens such a great opportunity.”
Council debated the matter for roughly 20 minutes after receiving a petition with more than 150 signatures asking council to reconsider their plans. While some councillors like Terra Lennox-Zepp and Dennis Nowselsky said they’ve received calls from residents who are concerned about the location, Dionne said he’s received nothing but positive comments. Other councillors said the same.
“A lot of the people I’m talking to in the community are saying … it’s going to be good to have the knowledge of what the city is up to and what other non-profit organizations are doing,” Coun. Blake Edwards said. “I’m supportive of the sign itself.”
“I haven’t heard one word bad about it,” Coun. Don Cody added. “Not one word, and I get constant (feedback) and I have not heard a back comment about this sign. I don’t know where all these comments come from.”
Some councillors also expressed frustration with how the project was portrayed in the media, and continually emphasized that it was a win for the city because it cost nothing except for maintenance and landscaping fees.
In comments following the meeting, Dionne said there have been calls from local groups like the E.A. Rawlinson Centre and the Prince Albert Exhibition for a space to promote their events. He argued that this electronic billboard would help fill that role.
Dionne also dismissed concerns that the sign would impede driver safety. He said the most dangerous intersection in Prince Albert is Marquis Drive and Second Avenue West, and he blamed speeding and texting drivers for the problem.
“There are distractions everywhere in the city,” he said. “The number one cause of accidents at that corner is still people texting on their phones, so I don’t see the billboard causing any issues.”
City of Prince Albert’s communication director Kiley Bear, who is responsible for overseeing the project, told council that the sign is already going up. She said she didn’t want people to get the idea that the project was still up for debate. She also added that the city sees it as a much-needed addition for the tourism sector.
“We still hear people saying that they didn’t hear about that (event) or we didn’t know about this (event),” she said during the meeting. “A billboard is absolutely another opportunity to hit the residents with information that the might otherwise not come into contact with.”
Opposition not going away
The man responsible for getting the petition in front of council said he’s not satisfied with what he heard on Monday, and plans to keep opposing the project.
Local resident Andy Torchinski said he was “annoyed” with the response from city council, which he said failed to address his primary concerns.
“They’re so focused on this sign being able to give notice to the public as to what’s happening in P.A.,” he said during an interview on Tuesday.
“Tourists going through, they’re not going to be stopping. They’re going right through P.A. That sign to me is still going to be a big distraction at that intersection, and somebody’s going to get hurt.”
Safety is Torchinski’s main concern. He argued that drivers would be distracted by the sign, which could lead to more collisions.
He also argued that the Marquis Road and Second Avenue intersection also has a giant electronic billboard nearby, which he said could be responsible for the collisions at the intersection. He also argued that the money could be used on more important things than signage.
“The money they get from Husky, as far as I’m concerned, belongs to the taxpayers of this community,” he said. “I don’t know who they think this money belongs to, but it certainly doesn’t belong to eight councillors and a mayor. That money belongs to the citizens of P.A. and they should be spending it a little more wisely than what they are.”
Torchinski added that he’s still circulating the petition and collecting signatures, but he’d rather have local residents call their councillors if they don’t like the decision, especially those councillors who said they’ve heard nothing but positive comments.
“I have 150 signatures that say, ‘no, we don’t want that sign and it’s too much money to be paying for it,’” he said.