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Business community talks energy system

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The city's senior administrator told Yellowknife's top business people to ask him all of the questions that "ring fear into (their) minds" about the proposed Con Mine community energy system at a meeting Tuesday.

Bob Long, senior administrative officer, was on the hot seat at the Yellowknife Inn as members of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce asked him how the proposed $60 million energy system will benefit them as business people and taxpayers.

Phil Moon Son, executive director for the NWT Construction Association, was the first to speak.

"(The association's) biggest concern is we don't want this to be another mega project that is primarily led by a huge southern firm that has very little trickle down effect to Northern companies or Northern people," he said, while also noting that the construction association sees value in the project.

With that preface, he asked Long what assurances the city can provide to Northern workers and businesses that every effort will be made to utilize the workforce that already exists in the North.

In response, Long said all three private sector proposals the city has received include direct involvement with companies working in Yellowknife.

He also noted that a great deal of the work that needs to be done isn't specialized or complicated.

"This is putting pipe in the ground and I think we're pretty good at that," he said with a smile.

"It's a $60 million project. I'm thinking the vast majority of those monies is going to be spent in Yellowknife with Yellowknife corporations because it's not complicated."

Other concerns were about the city's approach to a private partner.

Ray Decorby, president of Polar Developments, asked Long how the risk will be shared between the city and a potential private partner.

Long said one possibility, which he likes, is to have the partner take the risk of a capital cost overrun, while the city takes the risk of hooking everyone up to the system.

"We're going to have that discussion and come to an agreement.

"The agreement will be transparent," he said noting that council will have to approve it.

After the question and answer period, Decorby said he thinks the project has potential worthy of exploration, but he feels the city needs to do a better job laying out the risks and benefits to Yellowknife taxpayers.

"They need to somehow comfort the (population) as to their capacity to pull this off."

David Connelly, owner of public relations firm Ile Royale Enterprises, pressed Long to share with the group what the benefit will be for the regular taxpayer. He said he can see the benefit for a private partner and for the 39 downtown businesses the city hopes to hook up to the system, but he can't see the gain for the rest of the city.

Long said the greatest community benefit is that the system will generate funds to put toward expanding the system into other parts of the city, which would then benefit more and more people.

He referred to the project as the "critical mass" that is needed for the city to move into a district energy system.

Warren McLeod, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, and Tim Doyle, chamber executive director, said the chamber will be holding a board meeting Wednesday to discuss its position on the project.

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