Garden River day park still a go, despite unfulfilled request for 20-acre parcel

Photo from RM of Garden River Facebook page.

The RM of Garden River still plans to go ahead with a day park development near the old La Colle Falls Dam, despite an unfulfilled request for a 20-acre parcel of land owned by the City of Prince Albert.

RM officials asked Prince Albert city council to give them the property, which has an assessed value of around $200, in a letter included in the last executive committee meeting agenda package. Council rejected that request on Monday because of the site’s historical significance.

However, Reeve Ryan Scragg says the development will go ahead as planned, although council’s decision will cause some delays.

“It pushed the timeline back a bit,” Scragg explained during an interview on Thursday. “The land that the City owns isn’t where the park is going to be located. It’s simply the access for the park, and there are other ways that the municipality can go ahead and get a roadway done that doesn’t involve the gifting of the land. There’s procedures for purchasing and surveying the roadway and all that. It just adds to our timeline.”

Even if the city had given away the parcel of land as requested, it’s unlikely the park would have been opened before 2021. Scragg said they’d hoped to have it ready by fall, however the COVID-19 pandemic means it won’t open until next spring, at the earliest.

This is the RM’s third attempt to acquire the property. They offered to buy it in May 2019 and tried to lease it in August 2019. Both proposals were rejected, although in August mayor Greg Dionne said he was open to selling the property because he thought the City was paying taxes on it. The RM clarified that Prince Albert has not paid any taxes on it over the last 100 years because of its low assessment value.

Scragg is still hopeful they can get a deal done, and he plans to call Dionne this week to present his case.

His biggest concern is the perception that the RM of Garden River will financially profit from the day park, a possibility Dionne raised during Monday’s meeting. Scragg said it will be treated like any city park in Prince Albert that the public can access for free.

“If it’s just further reassurances that the RM isn’t looking to take this property and make money on it, then maybe it’s going to require us to go for a tour with city officials this summer and show them the property,” he said. “I can guarantee you that nobody from the City has been on that property in years. They’re very unfamiliar with the property, and I think a lot were probably even surprised that the City had this property.”

Scragg argued the project has no downside for residents inside and outside Prince Albert. The City currently pays no tax on it, but it’s rough topography and location well-below the flood-plain makes it an unlikely candidate for significant development.

The RM plans to use it to build a roadway and a parking area, along with some washroom facilities and trails leading closer to the river so guests can get a better view of the abandoned La Colle Falls Dam. The park will be on the north shore of the North Saskatchewan River.

“I don’t know how many parks the City has that they expect to make money off of,” he said. “We’re not looking to make any money off this. This is simply to provide public access to the North Saskatchewan River.”

Several city councillors were hesitant to give the parcel of land away due to its historical value. Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was the proposal’s most vocal critic. He argued that La Colle Falls is one of the most historically significant developments in Prince Albert history, and just turning it over to the RM was not the correct decision.

Mayor Greg Dionne echoed those sentiments, saying he didn’t like giving away land with so much historical significance. He also wanted more specific development plans from the RM before parting with it.

“They’re planning a park there. Maybe this is going to be a big tax revenue (generator) for them. We don’t know,” Dionne said during deliberations on Monday. “They could be charging for the day park. We don’t even know what their plan is. It will be interesting to see a plan, but at this point I don’t support giving or selling the land to them, strictly because that’s part of our history. Whether it’s a positive part or a negative part, it’s still part of our history and we should keep it in our portfolio.”

At least one Prince Albert city councillor would like to see the City develop the land if it isn’t sold or gifted. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp said she’s taken plenty of calls from residents who enjoy hiking in the area, and think the City has a great opportunity to make the experience even better.

“(It’s a chance) to learn something, but to also enjoy the beautiful natural area out there,” she said. “I’ve always hoped that maybe the City would look into that in the future as a recreational opportunity.”