Council to vote on Calgary pipeline
Okotoks: Coun. Matt Rockley forces decision on issue
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Tuesday, Sep 10, 2013 05:18 pm
Several years of debate over whether Okotoks should tie into Calgary’s water system will come to a head this month.
Okotoks Coun. Matt Rockley announced his intention to bring the long-simmering question extending a water pipeline from Calgary to supply Okotoks with water to a vote at council’s next meeting on Sept. 23.
Rockley said he believes Okotoks has all the information it needs to make a decision.
“This is an issue that’s been studied by this council for the last three years and I wanted to make certain there was action taken on this issue by this council and that it wasn’t put off to the next council,” he said.
Rockley introduced a motion at Monday’s council meeting calling for the Town to start of negotiating agreements with the City and the Province to determine the costs and process to build a pipeline. Under Rockley’s motion, the agreements will need to be brought back to council to sign once complete.
He said the Town needs to identify a long-term water supply once and for all and it should be decided before the Oct. 21 election.
“It shouldn’t be postponed to the next council because this council has already invested three years in analyzing this issue and it could result in a significant delay in moving forward if this is put off to the next council,” he said.
Rockley said a pipeline from Calgary is the best and most affordable option for Okotoks.
He said he wants the Town to keep the existing water treatment plant in operation and use a pipeline to supplement Okotoks’ water needs. According to a recent Town report, this option would cost $97 million over the next 25 years. However, this does not include what the city charges outside municipalities for changes to its own infrastructure required to provide water and sewer service outside its boundaries.
The city charges an annual fee to municipalities like Airdrie and Chestermere to cover the cost of changes to its infrastructure, such as expanding capacity of water mains or treatment plants in Calgary.
According to Okotoks’ municipal engineer Marley Oness, the City has not considered what the cost to Okotoks would be. Council asked administration to request Calgary research this cost. Oness said it’s too early to say what the cost could be, but he said it could be more than the $1 million a year Chestermere pays the city.
Rockley said he doesn’t think the cost of a Calgary pipeline will be too much for the Town to bear as up to 90 per cent of the cost to build the pipeline could be covered by the provincial government. As well, he said levies charged to developers and revenues from Town utility accounts can be used to pay for the pipeline.
“I don’t foresee there being a tax burden placed on existing residents by this because new development will be paying for the regional water system,” he said.
Rockley said the Town won’t lose any of its autonomy to the City with a pipeline. He also said pipelines are in place serving Airdrie, Strathmore and Chestermere where they work well and each community has retained its autonomy.
“It’s a utility and we’re looking for different ways of providing that utility service to Okotoks residents,” he said. “If provision of a utility service meant loss of autonomy, then we would have already lost our autonomy to electricity and natural gas providers.”
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said council is not in a position to make a decision on a Calgary pipeline.
He said the Town still doesn’t know how much it will cost to connect the pipeline to water infrastructure in Calgary.
Robertson said it could end up costing less to build a water line directly off the Bow River in the MD of Foothills, but there’s no way of knowing until the Town has heard back from the City.
“A million per year for 25 years, that puts the City of Calgary option at $122 million, rather than $120 million for a raw water pipeline,” he said.
Coun. Florence Christophers said Rockley makes a compelling case, however, she said she is undecided on the issue.
The election campaign officially kicks off on the day the issue will come to a vote in council. Christophers said there could be some value in allowing the community to discuss the issue during the campaign and making a decision soon after the election.
“Knowing this election is going to be about water, it stunts discussion if we’ve made a decision,” she said.
Coun. Laurie Hodson said he is disappointed by Rockley’s motion.
He said Okotoks is losing the values of environmental sustainability that attracted many of its residents to town in the first place.
“We talk about sustainability, we threw out sustainable concepts that we had without knowing what it is that we threw out,” said Hodson. “We placed no value on them so we’re no different than any other community.”