A Hanna downtown business owner told the town council that the proposed Main Street redevelopment project scheduled for 2024 could devastate her business and others. The presentation was made at the Feb. 13 regular meeting of Town of Hanna council.

Barb Larson, owner/operator of Shortgrass Cannabis, stated she wanted to talk to council about the proposed Hanna Downtown Redevelopment Project and began her presentation on a somewhat sombre note. 

“This is probably very futile but I have to try so here I am,” said Larson to council.

Larson stated that her business was initially visited by a town employee with information about the proposed project that included underground utility replacement and during this visit she was told the interruption to her business would be three days. “But that’s not true,” said Larson.

Larson noted that after she read the information package it seemed to her the interruption to her business would be more than three days, an interruption she described as having a “massive impact” on her operation.

“That made me angry because I hate being fed misinformation and I feel very strongly that’s what happened,” said Larson.

Larson noted she spoke to several neighbouring business owners who confirmed they also were told the interruption to their operations would be three days.

She stated that she was angry a decision was made that would directly and negatively impact her business while she had no say in the matter. 

Larson went on to note she contacted other business owners further away from her location and those one block south claimed they were told the business interruption would be one week, while those to the north claim they were told two weeks.

Larson then described a subsequent meeting she attended with MPE Engineering and it was at this meeting she discovered the block her business is located on has contaminated soil. 

Larson noted she was then told by Town of Hanna Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kim Neill the downtown redevelopment project’s interruption to her business would be six weeks due to unforeseen circumstances.

Larson told councillors she suspected it could be even longer than that. 

“A contaminated street’s entirely different, of course it’s going to be more than six weeks,” said Larson, who noted such a clean-up requires soil removal and liner installation.

Larson claimed in nearby Coronation a similar situation in the summer of 2023 went on for three months.

While Larson stated she understood the town could access a grant to help pay for this project, she’s been told by neighbouring businesses that they will close their doors if this moves forward. 

“…We can’t afford to lose those businesses and it’s just wrong,” said Larson.

Larson stated several times in her presentation that business owners were unaware of the lengthy interruption to their operations; she herself recently made a $10,000 investment in her business and cannot afford a reduction in her revenue which a months-long interruption could cause; Larson quoted the figures of 40 to 50 per cent of her daily business is walk-in from outside Hanna and she suspected customers won’t want to walk through construction to get to her front door; she also doesn’t have back door access and tunnel construction raises safety questions.

While discussing the communication problem, Larson quoted a comment that was made to her that if she attended town council meetings she would have known more about the interruption. She added that she’s also been accused of stirring up trouble.

At several points in her presentation the topic of the water and sewer infrastructure in downtown Hanna was mentioned, which was described as being 100 years old and obviously in need of replacement.

Larson stated she thought the point of a redevelopment grant was to attract business but she felt the Town of Hanna’s current proposal was throwing existing businesses under the bus.

“Don’t dismiss my concerns, which is what you’ve done to date,” said Larson.

The topic of compensation was mentioned; Larson stated Coun. Sandra Beaudoin told her she’d take that issue to council.

Coun. Beaudoin responded compensation would require very detailed information that council doesn’t have while the Town of Hanna doesn’t even know for certain if their redevelopment grant has been approved.

Coun. Fred Crowle stated if the town offered compensation to one business, another business could come forward claiming they too were harmed by the redevelopment and he wondered how such claims could be handled.

Larson answered the construction is directly in front of her business so her claim should be obvious.

CAO Neill interjected that it’s not known how extensive the contamination actually is and that won’t be clear until the ground is opened up.

Mayor Danny Povaschuk stated that the town has to face the reality of the infrastructure’s condition.

During discussion the topic of how long Larson’s business interruption would be was debated with the figure of six weeks being mentioned several times.

Councillors passed a resolution thanking Larson for her presentation.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 21, 2024 at 09:29

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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