We had a great day in Okotoks, Wednesday, as we continue week four of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan community conversations. Water has always been a source of conversation here. In 1998, the community recognized its growth is restricted by the environmental limits of the local watershed and took a unique and controversial position of capping its population.
Minister Diana McQueen attended the session last night, speaking with many residents in the area. She also had an impromptu meeting with the Rocky Mountain Dirt Riders Association to hear their thoughts on recreation opportunities in the area.
Here’s a sample of the feedback we received on the advice given to government by the Regional Advisory Council – from some of the 24,511 Albertans living in the Okotoks area.
In attendance: 91
- While some participants liked the vision statement – noting it was ‘excellent so far for the magnitude of the planning,’ others did not.
- Some found the vision statement too long but acknowledged that it would be hard to change – but perhaps limit it to one sentence.
- Some had no concerns with the vision or principles but rather how they will be achieved – tough decisions will need to be made.
- A few people noted that water was missing from the vision statement.
- Several statements were made that there is a need to better understand our water shed’s capacity and develop better land stewardship so not to diminish that capacity.
- We heard that some streamlining had amalgamated some approval processes. Some asked that the process of regulatory streamlining be clarified.
- Someone suggested that the word “consensus” should be added in the vision and that the “greater public good” needs to be discussed.
- Respecting private land ownership is very vague; tools and more emphasis on private land ownership is needed.
- We heard that property rights need to be enshrined in the process.
- Let’s not have 148 recommendations, let have five and do it right.
- Someone noted the difficulty of taking a 50-year snap shot of agriculture given the evolving nature of market conditions, technology, climate change and water.
- There was a suggestion made that we revisit water storage. Overall, water storage and planning is being neglected given how close we are to water sources of the mountains.
- We heard that policies should promote tourism with passive recreational opportunities.
- All economic outcomes should be science-based.
- Someone stated that, “the devil is in the details that are missing in the advice – which is subject to interpretation.”
- Several participants stressed the need for provincial support to protect agriculture and balance agricultural fragmentation; otherwise, we will never support population. “SSRP needs to give it teeth”
- Someone suggested that cumulative effects is important but it doesn’t have a place in the regulatory system. It’s a policy piece.
- We need to look at “best practices” in other jurisdictions to consider in the region.
- We heard that more groundwater mapping and inventory is needed.
- A watershed baseline is needed to inform use of conservation stewardship tools and to ensure they achieve ecological and development objectives.
- A question was raised on how the balance between private and public land and land-use will be developed. The difference between public, crown, private, and lease land needs to be defined.
- Someone noted that a lot of the conservation management area (CMA) is on public land. There was a feeling that grazing leases would support CMA designations.
- Government needs to recognize that landowners – especially ranchers and those holding grazing leases – are already land stewards.
- It was noted that if municipalities need to align with SSRP, provincial departments must also align.
- We heard that there is a bio-diversity issue but also a recognition that stewardship is already happening.
- There is need for more checks and balances for environmental monitoring. Air quality recommendations are light.
- Some attendees shared support for recommendations within this section.
- They expressed that a balance is needed between respecting landowner’s rights and respecting the environment.
- Someone noted that healthy communities are not being developed. The way we design our communities encourages people to have healthy lifestyle, i.e., bike paths, parks, open space, etc.
- There was some discussion around First Nations:
- An effective communication process is needed with First Nations.
- First Nations need more opportunities.
- What is aboriginal rights?
- Barriers to aboriginal inclusion should have been identified long ago – we should be working beyond that by now.
- We heard that the general population “average guys” don’t understand SSRP nor its implications.
Land-use direction and management intent
- We heard that the overall advice is good. It will come down to regulation and implementation.
- A few participants questioned why some recreation areas were identified and not others.
- Some contradictions were identified between CMA and recreation tourism designations – they seem to conflict, someone noted. How will government address the management or recreation activities?
- We heard that agricultural land base in Rockyview and other areas need to be preserved.
- It was noted that water storage attracts development. This needs to be considered in context of ecological impacts.
- One comment: ” industry has a lot invested in this area, so pulling them out equals big money.”
We’re looking forward to more great feedback from our remaining six community conversations. If you’re unable to attend the sessions in person, we encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to provide feedback through the online workbook.
Thursday, November 29
Centennial Civic Centre
120 Brent Boulevard
Tuesday, December 4
1103 Highway 9 South
Blairmore / Crowsnest Pass
Elks Hall – Blairmore
2025 – 129 Street
Wednesday, December 5
Medicine Hat Lodge
1051 Ross Glen Drive SE
Foremost Community Hall
802 – 1 Avenue W
Thursday, December 6
Coast Lethbridge Hotel
526 Magrath Drive S