Prince Albert area water project moving to next phase

The RM of Buckland and RM of Prince Albert Office./Daily Herald File Photo

Development of a new water treatment plant on the North Saskatchewan River, and a pipeline that will serve the Town of Shellbrook, recently took another step forward.

The Prince Albert Rural Water Utility (PARWU) board passed a resolution at a special meeting on April 29 to move to the next phase.

PARWU purchases water from the City of Prince Albert that serves a network of customers in the RM of Buckland, the RM of Prince Albert, the Muskoday First Nation and the RM of Duck Lake. With this resolution, they have invited the RM of Shellbrook and the Town of Shellbrook to join their board for regional collaboration to enlarge the PARWU’s ability to service more municipalities with fresh, good drinking water.

Shellbrook councillor and steering committee chair Brent Miller said the cost came in a bit higher than expected, but he’s confident the project will still work.

All of the early indications are that we have some positive economics,” Miller explained. “The conceptual design came in higher than we were expecting. About $45 million was where we thought it would land, we used those numbers (but) it’s actually $52.5 million.

“We ran the numbers. (With) those kinds of numbers, we can make it work and it works for everybody. Of course the more people we sign up the better the economics look.”

Miller added that the initial estimate was low because there was no design work completed. The group only had a some engineering work done, and some of their own estimates.

“We knew what the estimate was from 2018 and we did some extrapolations based on what we thought the inflation rate and cost of living index had been and came up with the $45 million,” Miller said.

“At $45 million we were sort of just intuitively thinking this project would work. We found for $52.5 million the project would work, so that’s a good thing and I really believe the project will come in under budget,” he added.

Miller said one reason the project will come in under budget is the PARWU decision to enlist the services of Stephen Irving as project manager. Irving had a successful career with Enbridge Pipelines, and has extensive experience in pipeline and operational facilities in the areas of engineering, construction, and operation.

Irving has informed the board that the work of applying for the various environmental and regulatory permits would begin very quickly.

The board also plans on building a team under Irving to help run the project.

Miller is convinced the project will receive interest from contractors and consultants because the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed business.

“Usually when they are hungry there’s a side benefit too. You don’t just get good pricing. Generally, you are going to get their A team players as well, so you end up with a better product,” he said.

“We want to be careful who we use because we are a small regional utility. We don’t want Cadillac facilities. What we want is super functional and good quality, but we don’t need to hire an architect for our building,” Miller added. “It doesn’t need to be state of the art and absolutely beautiful and impress everybody that drives by, we have to be really prudent.”

As part of the next phase, the organization plans to refine the design to get the most accurate cost estimate possible. That will include obtaining proposals for detailed engineering week, gathering cost estimates from local contractors, preparing a schedule for all activities required to identify critical path items, and engaging with consultants to apply for federal grants.

The RM’s of Buckland, Prince Albert and Shellbrook will be sending out letters asking for expressions of interest to residents situated close to the new water pipeline right of way. Irving has indicated that once a final right of way for all pipeline branches has been established, the locations will be published so potential subscribers will know if they are in the vicinity for hook-ups.

Miller said there are zones between the water plant and Shellbrook that haven’t had water service before, including areas such as Peter Pond, Crutwell, Holbein and rural subdivisions between Crutwell and Holbein.

“We hear from many that they have good water and good wells but we also hear from others that they would really be interested in buying up ,” Miller said.

There will be other steps to get the RM of Shellbrook and Town of Shellbrook on the board. According to Miller, Shellbrook has already passed a bylaw that ends the rotating deputy mayor so that they can have a deputy mayor sit on the board to suit the current board structure of PARWU.

“We needed to get somebody who would sit on the board and be competent and learn about what’s going on there and be able to add value all of the time,” he explained. “Switching that person out every four months probably just wasn’t feasible.”

The permitting process is expected to take 18 months, and will also include things like public forums.

There are also going to be decisions about routes, environmental, historical archaeology investigations and there has to be investigations of threatened species. Miller said he thinks the permit process could take up to 24 months

The project end date could be anywhere from two to three and a half years away.

“Worst case scenario we are looking at three and a half years,” Miller said. “Best case scenario, we are looking at around two. I have yet to have a best case scenario in a situation like this in my career, so it’s probably closer to two and a half to three and a half.”

Miller is also impressed with the PARWU board and their progressive approach.

“They were so willing to just say, ‘look Shellbrook and the RM of Shellbrook have to come and be on our board and be with us here. It will be a PARWU project and we will do it together,’” he said.

“I’m really impressed with the way things are developing, good group of people.”

It is anticipated that PARWU will keep the same acronym, but change their name to Prince Albert Regional Water Utility. The organization will also update their mission statement, which currently says their primary goal is to make “a consistent supply of treated water” available to homes, farms and businesses in the Prince Albert District via pipeline.

“The Steering Committee has done an excellent job of shepherding this project. If things continue to point in the right direction, this project would present many positive benefits for the town and ratepayers of Shellbrook and subscribers to PARWU,” Shellbrook Mayor and steering committee member Amund Otterson said in the release.