By Adam Eisenbarth
A big decision is on its way in Rimbey, and some residents feel it should be made by more than just town council.
As Rimbey moves toward a major opportunity with the possibility of an Aspen Bio-Energy ethanol plant, Joe Anglin is leading a movement for a plebiscite that would allow residents the opportunity to vote on the issue.
Anglin is not advocating a “no” vote but he does believe the matter is large enough to warrant the plebiscite.
“We’re not advocating any vote. What we’re advocating is, this is a proposition that is so large in scope and the magnitude of its implications on this town are at such a point it creates a circumstance.”
In a press release on Aug. 18, Anglin expressed his desire to implement a plebiscite into the procedure. He was puzzled by the reaction of some councillors.
“To get a kickback from council today to the degree that they’re angry at me, it’s bizarre,” said Anglin shortly after sending the release. He received a number of text messages from at least one councillor throughout the day. “I’d have to declare it as hate mail.”
He couldn’t understand exactly why the suggestion had caused such a reaction.
“Are they afraid of a plebiscite? I can only guess but I cannot rationalize they’re behaving that way. That tells me something’s going on.”
One possible explanation to Anglin is that the council is concerned the project would get voted down, but that doesn’t make sense to him either.
“If they felt that way, then why are we going forward?”
Mayor Dale Barr was unaware of these developments regarding negative comments from council and could not comment on the alleged resistance.
“It’s another one of these stories. Joe has never talked to me about a plebiscite. My understanding is he has not come in to talk to the town manager about a plebiscite. The first that we heard about it was through a media release.”
Barr said the town has not received a petition for a plebiscite but assured residents that the process will be carried out in a proper fashion.
“The Town of Rimbey has never had a plebiscite. My normal following is that we would follow legislation.”
While Anglin has his concerns about the plant, he was adamant that he is not taking these steps as an attempt to vote down the plant, but instead to open up discussion.
“What I’m looking at is a democratic process. It is within our legitimate right as a democracy to seek something like a plebiscite.”
Barr believes there are some misunderstandings about the role of the Town of Rimbey in this project.
“The town’s role in this is facilitation and trying to land a significant new project. It could be one of the first in the world.”
While Barr says the project is costly, a very small portion of those costs will come from the taxpayers. “I’d say approximately $10,000 might be the total cost to the taxpayers.”
The project was started by a grant of $348,000 that was matched by Aspen, Alberta Agriculture and other sources of funding.
That raises another concern for Anglin. He is concerned that the heavy grant money could cause residents to pay in the future.
“If a company is so heavily relying upon government grants, all indications in the coming years right now, short of a major change in our economic drift, grants are drying up. If grants are drying up and we’ve got a company that is totally relying upon grants, the writing is on the wall.”
At this time, there are a number of questions Barr cannot answer, because they do not involve the town.
“The financial information and the process engineering and all of that are proprietary information to both the investor, which is a private-owned company, and secondly to the technology provider.”
At this time, Barr feels those details are not yet the key anyway.
“What we do have to know is they’re still progressing and they’re still working details back and forth. What we’re waiting for is a decision for the investor that they want to proceed. Certainly we can have a public (meeting) prior to that but I’ll caution, we won’t have all the answers and some of the answers that they’ll be after are not ours to disclose.”
Barr sees tremendous value in the project.
“The project is still moving forward and has the potential to create 50 to 100 new jobs and create plus or minus $80 million in new tax base.”
While the debate over the value of the project will continue, the issue now is the plebiscite, which Anglin will continue to pursue.
“You elect a mayor and council to take care of what’s called normal day-to-day business; fix the roads, do projects and that type of thing. Something of this size is so rare that it warrants a plebiscite,” Anglin said.