By Trevor Busch
With value-added ag processing and irrigation expansion poised to transform the region, Taber has a lot to be excited about.
That’s the word from Mayor Andrew Prokop, who can’t say enough about what this investment will mean for the people of the area in coming years.
While the current 46-kilometre stretch of Highway 3 from Taber to Burdett will be putting shovels in the ground this spring, Prokop already has his vision fixed on further construction.
“It’s also earmarked to be twinned from Burdett to Medicine Hat, stage two, or three. So we could see that, I think, within the next three years, roughly that’s timeline-wise if they’re on track with that, so to twin the entire project. And so that’s exciting also, and it’s gonna be huge to have that happening. And it’s definitely way overdue. So that in itself is a great economical boost for the province and Taber and area as well. So we’re looking forward to that.”
The planned expansion of Chin Reservoir which is expected to add up to 200,000 irrigated acres to two local irrigation districts, St. Mary River (SMRID) and Raymond, is key to the region’s future success, argues Prokop.
“That’s over time, of course, to take care of that. Chin would roughly be half again, somewhere in that range, the (future) water volume capability and the expansion going east from the current location. So that’s a major, major increase in activity, benefits in the area. So the whole region actually, when you look at it that way, it’s a major announcement, and to get those kinds of monies ($133 million), you know they’re serious and it’s just gonna happen. And it will definitely benefit in many, many ways, and some that are difficult to measure, and it only stands to reason if you’re gonna have that much more irrigated land and that much more farming capability – that yields better than average yields most years, and quite often above average yields with all the crops grown – so how can you go wrong with that? It’s only going to be a major benefit for the whole region.”
The existing Chin Reservoir was completed in 1955, and is currently about 24 kms in length and has a water storage capacity of 154,320 acre-feet. The expansion project is expected to be completed by spring 2028.
Prokop is also excited about the economic potential for planned expansion of the McCain’s potato processing plant at Chin on Highway 3.
“That’s huge. For this area, I believe there’s 260 employees they are expecting to have to add to their current complement. So that’s a major expansion. And also Lamb Weston has done a renovation and upgrade here in the last year. And they’re still hiring, I think it was 30 – 40 employees, they’re adding as a result of their expansion in there. Cavendish (Farms) out of Lethbridge has been concentrating on that same focus. So it just goes to show you what’s happening. And then the need out there – the demand with all the crops, availability of capabilities, and to expand on that is only going to be a benefit for the entire region. So we’re really looking forward to that.”
Trying to respond to the needs of investors and employers, the Town has been focused on promoting affordable housing development in the community in recent years, something the municipality prefers to describe as “attainable”.
“That’s very true. Our Meadows project is just that – that’s been earmarked and started back in 2017 by that particular council,” said Prokop. “And we’re still in the midst of making that happen. And currently there’s five manufactured homes up for sale – should be this month. There is a playground started out there that’s earmarked to be completed this spring or summer as well. And more landscaping going on. So it’s gonna take a whole different look – we also approved the traditional stick build. So we’re likely going to do one or two of those as well for demonstration and our availability purposes for people to see. And I believe that’ll take off as well, all designed to be under that $250,000. mark all in. So that’s the goal to keep it under that $250,000 mark, which is kind of the limit for what was considered affordable and the federal housing figure. And we’re doing our level best to keep it under that and we did run into problems over the course of the pandemic with materials, prices raised in all areas, not just materials. All things considered we made some adjustments and are looking to make that very affordable, very tangible. And I believe once that starts it’s going to take off and it’s just a matter of getting those first few people out there.”
Bringing all of these moving parts together to promote the potential of the region is a delicate balancing act, and Prokop points out that timing is everything.
“Economic roles and recreation opportunities are what we’ve been focused on the last several years with our councils. And that kind of goes hand-in-hand with everything else that has evolved here as well. So all obviously have to have available housing, and affordable housing laws and/or rentals are lacking right now. So we’re trying to address all those those concerns and issues and make things happen. But all these things come together, which makes it an attraction, and will also attract other business growth here as a result. So it’s just a matter of time before things come together. Timing is everything, right? So with all these things coming together, when it was started with the agri-food corridor as a focus coming together, now we’re seeing the results. And we’re looking forward to great benefits. And with all these things coming to fruition, it’s gonna be a major benefit for our entire region.”