COLD LAKE - Growth in the south of the city is at a standstill, and council wants some answers.
For years, the City of Cold Lake has been pushing the province for approvals needed in order to see the municipality's south end develop, and Coun. Bob Buckle expressed his frustration with the process during their March 10 meeting.
"It really seems a shame when the government says what they're after is development, pro-development, and business opportunities, and they would like to see cases where private and public participation in these major projects. This is one, yet here we are how many years later waiting to hear a response, which should have just been a paper stamp coming back to us," Buckle exclaimed. "It just seems a shame that we can't push this forward somehow. It's very discouraging and terribly disrespectful to our ratepayers in the city. I don't think the people who are responsible for not getting back to us on this should be able to get away with this. There's something not right on this file."
According to Mayor Craig Copeland, several years ago there were "lots of residential, commercial, and multi-family developments," happening around the pond behind McDonald's. In order to continue to promote growth in that area, the city drained the pond with the intention of repurposing the land.
Before they could go any further, they needed the green light from Alberta Environment and Parks.
"We're waiting for approvals to repurpose it to industry standards so we can develop that whole area, plus behind Colonial Heights," explained Copeland. "We're talking about major residential opportunities here... When you look at where Cold Lake south can grow, this is a major area. Cold Lake south has limited potential on growth because of this whole issue. We've been working with Alberta Environment and Parks staff for multiple years to move this file."
Buckle stressed, "This file is being negligently handled on the government's side in a serious way. In doing so, not only is there lost development or potential lost development, but there's the abuse of taxpayers’ money that has been put forward in good faith on this project, which should have been approved years ago."
Despite not hearing back from the province, the city has hired a company to do the work.
"Tenders closed reasonably and we're happy with the various prices that came in. We've been in discussions with the lowest bidder in terms of timeline extensions possible and I do think there's an agreement to carry those prices for longer period of time, but on the Government of Alberta approval side, there's been no movement," detailed CAO Kevin Nagoya. "I would say zero. Despite the City of Cold Lake making every attempt to try and resolve this issue, there has been no response. It's not even a matter of getting some kind of run around there's just been no response."
Buckle told council he "no longer wants to take this lying down," especially because taxpayers' dollars have already been spent on this project.
"That's what I'm afraid of. We've already spent a fair amount of money on this file already, taxpayers’ money, and this thing was supposed to have been approved. There was no reason not to approve it. It's just not getting the approval from Alberta Environment, that's my understanding in terms of where it's being held up. We're not even getting responses as to why or when," he stated. "This is a multi-million dollar project with serious outlay already of financial commitment on the part of the taxpayers as well as the private entities, and yet, somehow here we are, prices holding until the end of March and we're still not getting a response from the bureaucrats in government."
Regardless of the project being on the radar of Alberta's Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu, whom Nagoya said described it as being at the top of their priority list during a tour last year, Cold Lake can't get the answer their looking for.
All of this uncertainty has caused developers to second-guess the location.
"We've lost private sector partners and then we got them back on board saying we think we can push this through, but the approvals now have really scared industry and developers away," said Nagoya.
Cold Lake's general manager of infrastructure services Azam Khan said he has a consultant speaking with the provincial government regarding the issue, and the most recent news is they've assigned someone to the file.
"They have said it's their top priority, but I've been hearing that for the past few years," Khan expressed.