Plans to develop a 320-acre business and industrial park in Fort Macleod are still alive — for now.
Mayor Rene Gendre called a special meeting Friday night to ask council to consider cancelling the project.
Gendre, who campaigned on a promise to scrap the project, noted tenders were due Tuesday and contractors would likely spend the weekend finalizing their bids.
“If we are going the cancel the contract, they need to be notified,” Gendre said.
Coun. Gord Wolstenholme, the only remaining member of the previous council that decided to develop the business and industrial park, said that decision of that magnitude couldn’t be made in a 15-minute special meeting.
“If we’re going to have the discussion about it it’s going to take more than that, unless the decision has already been made,” Wolstenholme said.
Coun. Keith Trowbridge agreed, noting he had little time to review the package of information provided by municipal manager David Connauton.
“I’m not anywhere near ready to make a decision on that,” Trowbridge said. “There’s 20-some pages here and there’s no way any of us can make an educated decision on this.”
Trowbridge proposed tabling discussion until council had sufficient time to review the information provided by Connauton on Thursday.
“I know nothing about this,” Trowbridge said. “How can I vote on it?”
Coun. Michael Dyck also favoured postponing the decision, noting he only had time to review the information earlier in the afternoon between jobs.
Coun. Trish Hoskin also wanted more time to review the information and consider her decision.
“I don’t think it’s responsible for us to do this,” Hoskin said. “I certainly don’t have background on this. If I’m going to be part of this council making decisions for our town, I need to understand what it’s all about.”
Coun. Brent Feyter was prepared to make a decision Friday.
“I wouldn’t be voting in favour of it,” Feyter said.
Feyter, who like Gendre made cancelling the $6-million project part of his election campaign, said the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Feyter added that delaying the decision would not be an issue, since council has 60 days from opening the tenders to cancel the project.
Connauton told council the companies that expressed interest in the contract were advised the new council could decide to cancel the project after the Oct. 21 election.
Feyter also noted companies planning to bid on the project are probably already prepared to meet the Tuesday deadline for submitting their bid.
“They’ve put a lot of work into it already,” Feyter said.
“Actually, they haven’t,” Gendre said.
Gendre said he had received a call from one of the companies interested in the contract indicating they would not be submitting a bid.
Gendre said the company had not proceeded with its tender, knowing that he, Dyck, Feyter and Coun. Mike Collar campaigned on cancelling the project.
Dyck wanted to clarify that statement.
“We campaigned on if it’s fiscally responsible to proceed with it,” Dyck said. “We saw a big chunk of money going into something that we didn’t understand at that time. At this point in time I still don’t understand it.”
Gendre said spending more than $6-million on the business and industrial park is not fiscally responsible.
“A number of us did campaign on cancelling the project because we believed at that time it was not fiscally responsible to continue with it,” Gendre said.
Gendre said when he was in business in Calgary tenders would be submitted for provincial projects only to have the project cancelled after the bids were opened. The project would then be revised and another call for tenders would go out and prices would be driven down.
“You got a lot of mistrust with the contractors in that process,” Gendre said. “I don’t want to see the town misusing its authority in that way.”
Gendre didn’t want to open the bids, making the information known to all the contractors, only to have council cancel the project and then perhaps later call for new tenders.
“We lose faith and that’s what I’m afraid of,” Gendre said.
Hoskin said she is concerned about losing public confidence in her ability as a councillor.
“The public trusts us to know the issues, to understand what’s going on, and I don’t,” Hoskin said.
Connauton noted some members of council campaigned on doing other projects instead of the business and industrial park.
Connauton proposed taking a few weeks to examine the costs of other projects before making any decisions.
Connauton said opening the tender won’t affect any decisions, but would help determine if it is the right project for Fort Macleod.
“The contractors are all aware,” Connauton said. “They’re all aware this project could be cancelled.”
“I believe as long as there is no risk to us in proceeding and reviewing the tender documents I don’t see any harm,” Feyter said. “It sounds like you’ve been very clear about what is happening. They understand that council is changing.”
“There is nothing crooked or even smelly about this,” Wolstenholme said. “The initial council put the tender out . . . this council may change it’s mind and they know that. I don‘t see anything wrong with opening the tenders. Then we’ll have a little more time to discuss this.”
Gendre said he called the special meeting to be fair to the contractors, to avoid leaving a “sour taste” in their mouths if the contract is cancelled.
“I don’t know it it’s going to leave a huge sour taste,” Feyter said. “David made it very clear council was changing.”
Dyck said he wanted to make an informed decision.
“I hate making rash decisions in business,” Dyck said. “If we’re treating this like a business we should not make rash decisions.”
Feyter said it wouldn’t be a rash decision.
“It’s whether we’re prepared to go ahead with a $6-million investment or not,” Feyter said. “That’s the basic question. We need to know if we have good return on investment or not.”
Council agreed to go ahead with the opening of tenders on Tuesday.
The previous council decided to develop a business and industrial park on the site where the $122-million police college was to be built.
“There are reasons we did it and I would like to express those reasons.” Wolstenholme said. “That’s why we need more time.”
The Town of Fort Macleod has spent $199,881 on the project to date.