The six candidates running for the three available spots on Sturgeon County council all agree the county will simply have to wait and see how future upgrader development pans out in the county.
Before the 2007 campaign it appeared as though several projects would be under way, but the changes in the economy and several mergers have changed the landscape and only one of the four projects that was initially set for the area is moving forward.
The North West Upgrading project announced they would likely go ahead in 2011 after being awarded a contract by the province to upgrade and collect bitumen in lieu of royalties.
The details of the contract are still being worked out with the provincial government.
Two other projects that were proposed — the Fort Hills project, which was being lead by Petro Canada and a proposed project by Synenco energy — have both been put on hold.
Petro Canada was merged with Suncor to create a new company that has not yet announced any plans on the Fort Hills project. Synenco was purchased by Total energy.
Total received approval for a project in Strathcona County that they owned prior to acquiring Synenco but have not made any announcement on the Sturgeon project.
Wayne Bullock, who is challenging incumbent Joe Milligan in Division 5, has been critical of the current council, but said the upgrader developments represent a significant opportunity for the county.
“That was definitely a good idea.”
Bullock said the county could try to finish some of the infrastructure the companies will require, but much of it is in place and without a strong indicator that industry is moving ahead, it might not make sense to commit more funds.
Milligan said the county has pushed the provincial government on the issue, but it can’t force industry to move.
“I think the county is doing the best they can at the moment.”
He said the investment has been well spent and pointed out many of the road upgrades have been paid for through pre-paid taxes the county has collected from industry.
In Division 4, both aspiring councillors Dave Kluthe and Al Homeniuk see the prospect of upgrader development as a good way for the county to balance out its tax base.
Kluthe said there would have been no way to attract industry to the area if the money hadn’t been spent to upgrade infrastructure and rezone land.
“You have to have that stuff there to bring the interest in.”
He said the county should do anything it can to attract more investment, but said having not yet sat on council he doesn’t know what else they could do.
Homeniuk said the potential to bring the industrial tax revenue from the projects is important, but ultimately it will be up to businesses who decide when they move forward.
“That is going to have to be in the hands of the businesses themselves.”
Incumbent Ken McGillis, who is running in Division 3, said over the long term the industrial heartland could be very important for the county.
He said the county has lobbied the provincial government aggressively on supporting the industry and he is encouraged that the North West project appears poised to go ahead.
He said all the county can continue to do is to make the energy industry aware of the potential.
“The county can work with our neighbours in the industrial heartland to make sure companies know about the opportunities.”
The Gazette was unable to contact McGillis’ challenger Catlin Letendre.
Election day is Oct. 18.