|Herald photo by Ian Martens
Fort Macleod Mayor Shawn Patience wraps up a phone conference with Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths announcing the province will pay back $10.26M the town invested in infrastructure for the now-cancelled police college Thursday morning at the town office.
LETHBRIDGE HERALD - FORT MACLEOD
Fort Macleod's mayor had to wait until the new year for his resolution. After spending the past three months hammering out a deal with the province, Shawn Patience announced Thursday the Government of Alberta will pay back $10.2 million to the Town of Fort Macleod to cover infrastructure costs the town had spent in preparation for a now-cancelled police training centre.
The restitution money will pay for investments the municipality has made since 2005 -projects that town council likely wouldn't have paid for had it known the police training centre wouldn't be built - such as the town's new wastewater treatment plant, land surveys, construction contracts and electrical and water and sewer service to the proposed site. The 320-acre parcel of land just south of Fort Macleod that was to be the home of the now defunct centre will also be returned to the town.
It's a second-best solution for Fort Macleod, Patience said.
"Obviously we'd prefer to have the training centre. But we have to deal with what's in front of us. We can't change yesterday, but we certainly have the capacity to change tomorrow. I can say that I'm very pleased with this resolution today. I believe that it does remove any encumbrances our municipality had in association with this project and it does give us some tremendous flexibility from which we can grow, from which we can prosper and move down the path towards some exciting new initiatives," he said.
The money doesn't make up for the projected economic boom the police college was to bring to the region, he acknowledged. It was to serve as a hot spot in high-tech police training for law enforcement recruits from across Canada and the United States, create jobs, raise property values and attract new residents. In anticipation, businesses expanded and the town developed new residential and commercial subdivisions for an expected influx of homebuyers who never arrived.
But as far as Patience is concerned, it's time for the town to move on.
"It would be easy to wallow in the cancellation, and no one had more skin in that game than I did, but I think it would be very defeatist and I think we have to now turn our sights to the future as opposed to the past. And I think we owe that to our residents. Life isn't always easy and it doesn't always roll out as you want it to, but it's not how you handle the wins. Sometimes, it's how you handle the losses. And in this case, I'm pleased that we're coming out of this with no financial burden," he said.
In August 2012, the province suddenly squashed the proposed $122-million Alberta Public Safety and Law Enforcement Training Centre, which had been approved seven years earlier. Just a month after high-tech architectural designs were unveiled and three weeks after construction had already begun, mayor Patience was shocked to find out, via a press release from the solicitor General's office, that the project was dead. The RCMP, as well as the province's largest police departments in Calgary and Edmonton, had said they wouldn't use the proposed centre to train their recruits and the government now considered the project a waste of taxpayer money.
In the aftermath of the sudden cancellation, which some residents of the town of 3,100 mourned "like a death in the family," Patience vowed to fight for Fort Macleod and threatened to sue the province to recoup costs.
Following a conference call with Fort Macleod mayor and council Thursday morning, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said that wouldn't be necessary.
The province has agreed to return a total of $10,259,830 to the town by mid-February. The province will also pay out a smaller engineering contract it had signed for the police college.
"I know that people have thought that this is a pretty dark cloud, but there's a silver lining in every dark cloud, and this is it: we have serviced land prepared to go and the community has the opportunity to attract other industries, other investments from other jurisdictions, which bodes well for the community and prepares them for what's going to be some pretty substantial growth in this province over the next 10 years," Griffiths said.
"Mayor Patience has definitely displayed patience and the community has too and I am glad that we could live up to these commitments," the minister added. "The community is sitting on the cusp of fantastic opportunities and some great infrastructure that's going to serve them well for decades to come."
The town doesn't yet have specific plans for the 320-acre site, but Economic Development Officer Martin Ebel said he's been "very pleasantly surprised" in the wake of the college cancellation to have received several inquiries from various industries looking to move to Fort Macleod, including construction supply companies and agricultural businesses.
"I really expected it would just drop off and for a half-year or a year be almost nothing. And actually, it's been a busier time. And these are industries and commercial operations that are not related to the police training centre at all," he said. "The development, I'd say, of Fort Macleod over the next five to 10 years will be very different than it would have been with the police training centre, but I think there are some promising signs already and it's up to town council, administration staff and the people of Fort Macleod to make it happen."