This month, we’re in 21 communities talking to Albertans about the draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan – a long-term land use plan for the region. These summaries, posted the day following each session, try to capture the main themes expressed during each session – which weren’t necessarily agreed upon by everyone.
ATV riders came in off the highway and drove the agenda at last night’s SSRP session in Airdrie. Of the 19 Albertans who attended the public session, about two-thirds were members of either the Calgary ATV Riders Association or the 2nd Gear Club. The conversation followed a trail of concerns about restrictions on quad use, particularly in the Eastern Slopes. Users expressed concerns that the proposed conservation areas go beyond what is required to establish a balance between recreation and conservation. They also acknowledged that problem riders have given their sport a bit of a ‘black eye’, and advocated more enforcement and harsher penalties for rule-breakers.
Of course, we also heard views on many other issues, like local autonomy and economic development. 19 representatives of stakeholder organizations came out to the morning session, bringing with them some very diverse viewpoints. Groups included:
- Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association
- Alberta Hiking Association
- Canadian Association of Recreational Adventurers
- ATCO Power
- Calgary Regional Partnership
- Calgary Regional Airshed Zone
- Alberta Wilderness Association
- ATV Tour Operators
Here’s what we heard:
The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:
- Split opinions on vision – some participants said it’s too high-level, others thought that the vision incorporates all the necessary elements
- This is not a ‘stand alone’ plan – vision needs to connect to other regions in the province
- Plan is difficult to read and is too technical with a lot of jargon in many areas. Terms like “white” and “green” areas are not understand by many people.
- More emphasis is needed on sustainability
- Tourism was a common theme – particularly, the need to balance rural versus urban attractions and motorized versus non-motorized recreation opportunities.
- Opposition to expanding irrigation to grassland areas
- Concern from ranchers about oil and gas developments on adjacent Crown land
Biodiversity management framework:
- Doubt that all the competing demands and uses can be integrated; goals and priorities in different sections often conflict with one another
- Concerns that current access rights will be curtailed by the plan
- More transparency needed on how the conservation areas were determined
- Some concern that the proposed areas go beyond what is required and potentially cut off recreational access
- A lot of concern about the plan’s potential to cut off recreational access to parts of the province – argument that providing “world-class” opportunities for recreation and tourism won’t be possible if we cut off this access
- Off-highway vehicle riders acknowledged that problem riders are an issue – support for more enforcement, education, and harsher penalties
- Plan needs to define motorized and non-motorized trails and then make this information publicly available
- Several riders offered to fund, build, maintain ATV trails and infrastructure on public lands
- Need to maintain more camping areas and manage them well
Stewardship and conservation of private land:
- Linear footprint and road and utility corridor development needs to be planned in advance of development and population growth
- Integrating provincial law, federal law, regional plan and local competing land uses is challenging
- Private landowners need to do more to conserve and protect grassland areas
Air and water quality:
- Plan does not explain who, how, and when the air quality framework will be developed
- Airshed maps need to be included in the plan
- Need better access to air and water monitoring data. It is very difficult to find this information currently.
- Need to define the roles of municipalities and the province in the design and implementation of flood mitigation measures
- Plan makes a good attempt to balance growth with environmental and social impacts
- Some concern about what is perceived as the growing erosion of local decision-making powers. Some participants saw this plan as evidence of municipalities giving way to the province – this represents a “slippery slope” that will see decision-making take place further and further away from the people it affects.