Open house brings in questions regarding water treatment plant

The City of Thompson and Vale’s Manitoba Operations held an open house at St. Joseph’s Hall June 10 to speak about the transfer of the water treatment plant from the company to the city. Both Lovro Paulic, vice-president of Vale’s Manitoba Operations, and Mayor Dennis Fenske presented information about the transfer, and the upgrades within the plant.

Vale has invested $14.5 million into upgrading the plant, which includes new piping, computer upgrades, monitors, a new oil storage container, a new filter system, and a chlorine scrubber system. The value of the plant is $23 million, the company says.

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After the presentation, residents had the chance to ask questions about the letter of understanding, and the transfer, which doesn’t have a set date, though Paulic hopes it will be done by Jan. 1 of next year.

In response to a question about how much input council members had regarding the deal, Coun. Kathy Valentino explained that there have been over 20 meetings, as well as briefing for the other councillors during in-camera meetings. “I think that the input from council was very strong to want to bring it to the public. This council wanted you guys to have a voice.”

Paulic also mentioned that Vale doesn’t need to have these open houses, or talks with the city, but they choose to do so. “There are two options. The first one is to do what we’ve done, and option two is to not do that and just hand over the keys. That is Vale’s legal right to do that, but that’s not who we are. That’s not who we are as a company and that’s not who we are as a council. It was imperative for us to get together and do what was best for the community.”

When asked why it’s taken so long to make this transfer, Paulic explained that Vale used to consume a lot more water, especially potable water, which is a vital component of running the refinery. “We wanted to retain that asset until we were at the point that the refinery is going to close. We can time out when we walk away, and when the city is comfortable of taking care of it, and then we don’t have to worry about that.”

Paulic was asked about the pump house, which Vale will be keeping since they need raw water, and the city just needs potable water. Paulic noted, however, that some day – no specific date was given - Vale will upgrade the pump house, and hand those keys over to the city as well.

With the transfer of ownership, Fenske explained that water rates will go up but isn’t sure how much the final decision is up to the Public Utility Board (PUB).

In response to a question about why the transfer is even happening, when Vale in Sudbury, Ont. is producing water instead of the city, Paulic explained that in Sudbury Vale uses 70 per centre of the water, and the city uses 30 per cent. In Thompson, it’s the opposite with the city using two-thirds of the water and Vale using the other third. Paulic says the liability risk is too high for them to continue to produce it, and it doesn’t make sense for them to when the city uses more. In Sudbury, he said, Vale also charges the city for water, but Manitoba Operation do not.

Paulic hopes the government will understand why this transfer is happening and will allow the deal to go through with the provincial sales tax and land transfer tax waived.

A second open house is happening tonight at 7 p.m. Residents are encouraged to attend to learn more about the transfer as well as the plant itself.

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