As happens every year at about this time, budget deliberations have broken out at the Town of Hay River.

Actually, it’s not quite correct to say that budget deliberations – especially for the capital budget – have begun, because they never really stop.

Any municipality always has to be thinking about what it needs to buy, replace or repair, and what it needs to be planning on buying, replacing or repairing.

It is the planning part that might be keeping council and administration awake at night these days.

Just a few years after building a new Rec Centre, since rechristened the Community Centre, the town is now facing two major projects in the near future.

One has been known about for years. That is the demolition of the old town hall/fire hall and the construction of a new town hall.


The old town hall was closed in July 2014 because of air quality problems. And since 2015, the municipal offices have been located in leased space once occupied by True Value Hardware.

The town has been talking about building a new town hall since then, and spending money on planning for that eventuality, as it will in the 2021 capital budget currently being prepared.

It appears to be a matter of settled dogma that a new town hall will be built, which will be, of course, a multimillion-dollar project.

That would seem to be enough major construction in the near future for a small town.

However, town council was recently offered the opinion of an engineer from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) that the town should build a new water treatment plant within the next five years.

The recommendation landed with a thud during a recent online meeting of council, especially with the estimated cost of $15 million.

The current water treatment plant is old, but one of the main driving factors in the possible need for a new facility is this year’s high turbidity – or muddiness – in Great Slave Lake from where the town gets its drinking water.

The current plant was not designed to deal with such high turbidity, but new and better technologies would be.

There is, of course, one massive question looming over any decision to build a new water treatment plant. Was this year’s high turbidity in Great Slave Lake a one-time aberration related to high rainfall, or was it something that the town can now expect every year?

That’s the $15-million question.

If it was an aberration, perhaps the town could improve the existing water treatment plant without having to go for a replacement.

Of course, no project of that scale happens overnight, so the town will have a couple of years to see if the turbidity problem persists or if the lake returns to its historic and manageable levels of muddy water just after spring breakup.

In the meantime, the town plans to begin looking at the need for a new water treatment plant in its 2021 capital budget.

Town administration and its elected officials cannot be envied for the decision that lies in front of them.

There are basically being required to predict the future.


Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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