Grande Prairie must get ahead of growth curve, mayor says in State of the City address

Grande Prairie will need help from the provincial and federal governments to get ahead of explosive economic and population growth, Mayor Bill Given said in his 2018 State of the City Address.

'Growth is both a blessing and a curse,' Mayor Bill Given said Thursday following the annual speech

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given gave his 2018 State of the City Address on May 10. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Grande Prairie will need help from both the provincial and federal governments to get ahead of economic and population growth in the region, Mayor Bill Given said Thursday in his State of the City address.

Given cited statistics that show an upswing in activity in the local energy industry as well as a drop in housing vacancy rates.

But the city needs resources to ease its growing pains, he added.

"Growth is both a blessing and a curse," Given said.

"We have an opportunity now to invest in the resources, the infrastructure and the services that we need to prepare for that growth when it really starts to explode."

In his 2018 State of the City Address, Mayor Bill Given emphasized Grande Prairie has a bright future. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Grande Prairie faces a housing crisis if the city can't find ways to keep up with its growing population, said Givens.

The housing vacancy rate plummeted from 20 per cent in 2016 to five per cent in 2017, according to statistics released by the city.

"We're working with our community partners to address this coming housing shortage," he said.  

"But we are going to continue to need support from the provincial and federal governments with continued investments."

Grande Prairie picking up speed

City data also shows economic growth in the area, following a downturn in 2014 and 2015.

The number of permits issued for oversized vehicles travelling through Grande Prairie hit 5,102 in the first quarter of 2018, an 87 per cent increase from the 2,722 permits issued in the first three months of 2017.

The large vehicles are used to haul service rigs, housing parts and major oilfield equipment. 

The number of drilling licences also increased, with 230 licences issued in the first four months of 2018 — a 16 per cent increase compared to 2017, according to city data.

"This is not a situation that's unknown or that Grande Prairie hasn't been through before," Given said.

The rapid growth could be hemmed in by Highway 40 if the province does not act quickly to improve the two-lane highway south of the city, he added. 

Highway 40 connects Grande Prairie and its surrounding municipalities to industry such as natural gas operations in the nearby Montney Formation. 

"Getting ahead of the growth curve means investing in infrastructure before it's needed," Given said. 

He also wants the province to review how the RCMP is funded in Grande Prairie, to free up money for the city to invest elsewhere.

Grande Prairie budgeted nearly $20 million for its 107-member RCMP detachment this year. The funding represents roughly 12 per cent of the city's $165-million annual operating budget.

A change to the funding model would allow the city to invest more money into housing or infrastructure, to keep up with recent growth,he said.

Moving forward, Given said he will keep pushing for support from the provincial and federal governments to capitalize on Grande Prairie's rebounding economy and growing population. 

"Grande Prairie has been no stranger to the phenomenon where tremendous growth brings demand and strain on resources," Given said.

"We will grow and we will adapt, but we want to ensure as best as possible that we're prepared for what we see coming down the road."