County needs millions to get parks growing

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But would add millions to coffers if they did

Sturgeon County could get millions of dollars in additional tax revenue from the Sturgeon Industrial Park, says a new report, but only if it pays for $54 million worth of upgrades.

County councillors received a report from staff this week on the county’s industrial lands. The 51-page document recommends that the county concentrate future growth in three of its seven industrial sites and outlines the upgrades needed to fully service these regions.

Water is the main issue, says Kyle Reiling, the county’s manager of economic development. Most of the county’s industrial parks do not have the reservoirs needed to put out big building fires, so companies have to either build their own or pay higher insurance rates as a result.

The county has had to turn away four companies in the last year due to its underserviced industrial parks, Reiling says, and is missing out on potential tax revenue.

“Until we get our fire services [figured out], we’re not capitalizing on the potential,” he says.

Costly upgrades

Just 5.6 per cent of the county’s land is zoned for industrial use, the report notes, none of which is fully serviced in terms of water, power, gas and roads.

“With most industries looking for fully serviced land for their business operations,” it reads, “Sturgeon County risks losing its competitive edge in industrial development.”

The report examines seven proposed and existing industrial parks in the county and uses a statistical model to determine which ones the county should develop.

The top three parks (in order) were Sturgeon Industrial, Villeneuve Airport Industrial and Pro North Industrial, Reiling said. Sturgeon had plenty of land and infrastructure to support new business, he notes, and was an excellent spot for spinoffs related to the future North West Upgrading upgrader.

Villeneuve could be home to about 7,000 people in the near future, according to a proposed area structure plan, he continues, and could provide logistical support to many trains, planes and trucks. Pro North could easily become a gateway to northern Canada due to its location near a proposed ring road.

But each site has limitations, Reiling and the report note. Sturgeon needs a new $6-million reservoir for fire protection, for example, while Villeneuve needs a new sewage lagoon. Pro North has no water service for firefighting, and clients have to build their own systems on site.

Sturgeon Industrial would need about $54 million in road, water and sewer upgrades to reach its full potential, the report found, but would generate $9 million in taxes a year once it did — about 21 times what it creates now. Villeneuve and Pro North would cost about $43 million and $12 million to upgrade, respectively, and generate up to $729,000 and $373,000 in taxes a year.

Where’s the money?

The county definitely had to make some investments if it wanted to see these parks grow, says Wilf Nikolaj, managing director of Guardian Chemical in the Sturgeon Industrial Park and member of the county’s economic development board.

“If you want growth, you’ve got to have the services to support it,” he says.

The report calls on Sturgeon County to draw up a plan to develop infrastructure in these parks and to muster federal and provincial funding to pay for it. The county may also want to take a more active role in developing the parks, possibly by buying key pieces of land.

The county now has to figure out how to pay for these upgrades, says Coun. Don McGeachy, who was familiar with the report.

“We can’t be burdening [ratepayers]with something that’s going to benefit someone else,” he says, but a successful industrial park would bring jobs and lower residential taxes to the county.

The report is available in this week’s county council agenda package.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.