Agreement with research centre delayed

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Development of a memorandum of understanding between St. Albert and a wastewater research centre, which includes a residential neighbourhood, has been delayed by nearly a year.

City councillors agreed in May to explore options with the Alberta Resource Recovery Centre to see how the city could benefit from an experimental wastewater treatment plant and develop a memorandum of understanding. The centre, to be located one km northeast of the city, was supposed to be under construction this summer but was held up by permitting delays.

Councillors agreed in a 6-1 vote on Dec. 4 to give city staff until the end of the third quarter of 2018 to wrap up discussions with the centre and update council on its progress. From there, a memorandum of agreement could be considered.

Coun. Ray Watkins cast his vote against the motion to extend discussions, questioning the motives of the project’s proponents and expressing concern with the lack of a business plan.

“I’m very concerned about getting involved in a project that is outside the city boundaries presently,” he said, adding it almost appears to him that the research facility is actually a way to establish a community in the country.

The 400-acre site is in Sturgeon County but falls within an area St. Albert is currently looking to annex. Annexation discussions between the two municipalities got underway last week, but are in the early stages.

The research centre would involve two stages: first, the development of a four-acre research facility site; and second, roughly 400 acres of residential space that would be turned into a 350-person community. That community would supply the facility with sewage.

Rod Valdes, economic development director for the city, said annexation and the city’s future municipal development plan (MDP) are two things getting in the way of pursuing a memorandum with the centre.

“Since we didn’t know what that space would look like in our MDP, we didn’t want to show intent and then have possible conflicts in the future,” he said.

Other obstacles include the lack of an established business plan for the project and questions over how the site would be serviced.

City manager Kevin Scoble said those factors limit the city’s ability to do a proper cost-benefit analysis.

“We need some sense of where the project may go,” he said.

A memorandum of understanding – considered to be a “high-level” document – would show the city’s support for the project and give the centre some assurance the city would not stop the development once annexation is finalized.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said the facility could change the way the city handles its infrastructure and the costs associated with treating wastewater.

“This is an opportunity for us to learn and explore,” she said.

Nicholas Ashbolt, a professor at the University of Alberta who is directly involved in the project, could not be reached for comment by press time.

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April Hudson