On Thursday, Sturgeon County officials said a major upgrader project, with significant economic spinoffs, has been confirmed – and construction is set to start in early 2013.

Officials said the joint project called the North West Redwater Partnership Sturgeon Refinery Project (NWR) was announced by partners North West Upgrading Inc. and Canadian Natural Upgrading Limited.

Once it’s finished, the project will be billed as the world’s first clean bitumen upgrader, and the first one to be built in the province in decades.

“This is the first upgrader that’s been done in Alberta in the last nearly thirty years,” Energy Minister Ken Hughes said. “This is a very important step forward.”

In a release, Sturgeon County Mayor Donald Rigney said the project was the result of ten years of work with the team behind the project.

“This development will enable our children and grandchildren to live, work and play in Sturgeon County,” Mayor Rigney said in the release. “Rather than following our raw resources down a pipeline.”

For the nearby communities, the anticipation has been building for some time.

“For Fort Saskatchewan, this one is only 20 minutes away, so what it’s going to mean, it’s going to mean jobs, [and] more people coming to our community,” Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur said.

“We’re looking at our horizon right now, of over $20 Billion worth of projects coming online. When we said the economy tanked in 2007, we’re back!”

Currently, more than 300 people are working on the project, but it’s expected to generate more than 8,000 jobs during construction

The first phase of construction has been estimated to cost $5.7 billion, and is expected to take three years to build.

Two other phases of equal size are planned to complete the project.

Once it’s completed, the facility will process up to 150,000 barrels of raw bitumen per day – into diesel, diluent, naphtha, butane, propane and ethane.

The refinery has also been designed to capture carbon dioxide emissions – that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere, and pump them underground.

“We’re looking to have a safe healthy community,” Mayor Katchur said. “We work very hard to make sure that industry is working alongside us.”

Construction has been scheduled to begin in the spring of 2013.

With files from Bill Fortier