ATHABASCA – Summer village residents in the northwest part of Athabasca County are one step closer to getting potable water in their own communities after county councillors passed a motion to formally apply to the Water for Life program for the needed grant.
During their Nov. 14 council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to approve the motion — the item was dealt with as part of the consent agenda and had no discussion — which will see Athabasca County ‘backstop’ the proposal with approximately $1.6 million of its own money. If approved, the grant would cover the roughly $16 million needed for the project.
“Adding additional customers to the water foremost matters for the customers, they’ll have clean water available,” said Athabasca County Reeve Brian Hall. “For the rest of the county residents, and the folks in the town and the Village of Boyle, the expansion will lower the unit cost of water.”
The Island Lake Water Line Extension project committee is made up of seven institutions, including the county, the Town of Athabasca, and the regional water commission. While the pipeline would only run to the western part of the county, more water sold will mean each customer is paying for less of the static cost the water commission has in place — the proposed expansion is unlikely to increase utilization costs for the plant.
Councillors had last discussed the project during the Sept. 12 regular council meeting, when Coun. Rob Minns brought an update on the project to his colleagues. At the time, the project committee was weighing three options for the project.
Hall said the county doesn’t have a timeline in place for the grant — the impacted parties will have to wait and see if the grant gets approved before the project moves forward.
Water isn’t the only area that Athabasca County is hoping to fund through a grant application — councillors also voted unanimously to apply for the provincial Northern Regional Economic Development grant.
Athabasca County is hoping to use the funds — the grant can award up to $200,000 — to conduct a feasibility study to improve and strengthen cellular and broadband coverage throughout the boundaries of the municipality. A second feasibility study will be looking at a multi-year plan to improve, enhance, and possibly expand Athabasca County campgrounds and boat launches.
“The projects recommended by administration were accepted by council because they align with our long-term strategic priorities,” said Hall. “Looking for ways to enhance cellular and internet coverage across the region is critical for our long-term viability. The campground side was a recommendation from our strategic plan, to increase tourism and make sure that the facilities are all that they can be.”
“Our previous application was a laundry list of things, so we felt it was important to focus on a few clear things,” said Christa Wilkinson, director of community and protective services for Athabasca County. According to the province’s website, the county received $102,750 from the NRED grant in 2022 for a regional branding strategy.
Councillors said they were in favour of the two ideas, which county CAO Bob Beck said could very well take up the full $200,000 on their own.
“I like the idea of the feasibility studies, even digging into more of the environmental side,” said Minns. “When we put a boat launch in, we can actually do a very good boat launch, so we aren’t going back to it every couple of years as things move around.”