Infrastructure, parks and hockey dominate talks at State of the City address

Mayor Greg Dionne delivers the 2019 State of the City address at the Ches Leach Lounge on Thursday, Jan. 31. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Parks, infrastructure and the Prince Albert Raiders were just a few of the topics that came up during Mayor Greg Dionne’s State of the City address at the Ches Leach Lounge on Thursday.

The Mayor spoke to a full crowd for roughly an hour, addressing a wide variety of issues, but the main focus was infrastructure spending. The city plans to spend roughly $10 million on infrastructure projects this year, but Dionne said they won’t do any more without financial help from the federal or provincial governments.

“We have a whole bunch of projects that we call shovel ready,” Dionne said in an interview afterwards. “If they gave us the funding, we could start construction this year, and they like that, so we’ll continue to get projects shovel ready and identifying certain areas where we need it and we’re ready to go.”

The city’s largest current infrastructure project, a new water reservoir, is close to 80 per cent complete. That project saw significant contributions from the federal ($6-million) and provincial ($4-million) governments.

Other current infrastructure projects include the $1.5 million water main replacement program and at $1 million project at the regional landfill. The Water Main replacements are the biggest issue, with city administrators estimating that at least $65-million worth of work needs to be done, assuming there are no other setbacks. Council doubled it’s replacement program from $1.3 million to $2.7 million to help meet that demand, but even with the increase is will still take 24 years to get caught up.

Dionne said they’ll have no choice but to look for help from other levels of government, meaning he’ll be keeping a close eye on the provincial budget due in March. He said roads, sewer and water, and another sewage treatment plant, as well as a new police station, new fire hall and new aquatics facilities are all on the city’s wishlist.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead, but I believe it’s all about managing debt and we’re very good at managing debt, so I think we can move a lot of these programs forward,” Dionne explained.

New skate park for West Flat

Parks and recreation spending was also a major theme, with Dionne officially unveiling a second skate park for Prince Albert, this one to be located in the West Flat neighbourhood.

Although the matter still needs final approval from city council, Dionne said they already have a location picked out and a funding model ready to go. The location will be revealed once they have a formal agreement. Negotiations are in the final stages. Local philanthropist Malcolm Jenkins is expected to contribute some of the funding.

Ideally, Dionne said he’d prefer to have the skate park open this year, although he also said that wasn’t likely.

“We’d like to do it at the same time as Jumpstart (the Jumpstart Inclusive Playground Project under development near the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse) when the Canadian Tire people are here, but that won’t happen,” he said. “We have to finish the negotiations and then we have to send it to council. We have to put some funding into it, but as you can tell, when it comes to partnerships, we have no problem with funding.”

Dionne said the Jumpstart playground will open this spring, although the original estimate was October 2019. He also unveiled plans for a new playground park in Crescent Acres. The design was chosen after consultation with local residents.

Mill not re-opening

Dionne also threw cold water on what he called a “rumour” that the pulp and paper mill would reopen.

Owners Weyerhaeuser announced the closure of the mill indefinitely on Oct. 4, 2005, but B.C. based Paper Excellence Canada purchased the building in 2011 with the intent of reopening it in 2020 once a non-compete clause expired. On Thursday, however, Dionne said the city had no knowledge of the mill opening any time soon.

“As I said last year, there is nothing to report,” Dionne said during his address. “This year there is even less to report, so anyone who hears the rumour that the mill’s opening, please tell me, because that’s not going to happen.”

The cities only involvement with the mill has been to issue demolition permits to allow the owners to knock old buildings down. Dionne said they did try to purchase the mill, but were turned down. He added that there still are opportunities there, and ways the city can help, but there are no current plans in place.

“You’ve all heard the rumour that they’re going to open in 2020. Well, that’s 11 months away. That just cannot happen,” he said. “There is so much work to be done in that facility.”

In an emailed statement, Paper Excellence said the company is still evaluating the facility.

“As per the Request For Proposal issued several months ago, we are in the process of engaging with engineering firms to conduct a feasibility study regarding Prince Albert Pulp Inc,” said Kathy Cloutier, director of corporate communication.

“Once an Engineering Firm has been selected, the objective will be to provide Paper Excellence with an extensive evaluation, including cost, to refurbish the Prince Albert facility as a Kraft Pulp Mill.”

Go Raiders Go

Dionne opened Thursday’s speech with some positive comments for the Prince Albert Raiders. The club currently sit first overall in the WHL and have held top spot for 15 straight weeks in the CHL’s weekly rankings.

With all the positive development, Dionne said the Art Hauser Centre should sell out every night, something that hasn’t happened since the club’s final home game in 2014. The highest attended game so far this season came on Dec. 28, when 3,130 fans came out to watch the Raiders beat the Saskatoon Blades 4-2. Peak capacity is 3,366.

With that in mind, Dionne said he wants to create a “Bring the Raiders a Little Love” campaign to get the team a sellout. The goal is to get local businesses to buy 500 tickets, which will be donated to local families, or people who haven’t attended a Raider games in years.

“Listen to the excitement in the rink, the cheering and the quality of the hockey,” Dionne said. “Curtis Hunt has put a beautiful team together, so let’s go Raiders go.”