What we heard: the last week of SSRP discussions revs up in Medicine Hat

SSRP banner

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.

 

Our last week of conversations about SSRP kicked off with a lively discussion in Medicine Hat yesterday. A total of 61 Hatters attended the sessions. Members of the public ranged from agricultural producers to students to environmental advocates. The morning discussions were attended by representatives from a wide range of organizations, including:

Medicine Hat News’ Alex McCuaig captured some of the session’s complexity here.

 Here’s what we heard:

The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:

  • The plan is too overarching – there is not enough detail
  • Concern that there are still tough decisions to be made not included in this draft – not everyone will be happy
  • Path for implementation is not clear
  • How do we measure outcomes? Plan seems to indicate that this will be completed later – hard to buy into plan when you don’t know how things will be measured
  • Plan is missing some historical data
  • Plan assumes large population increases for this region – but this is not guaranteed
  • Agriculture seems to be missing from the visions and outcomes
  • DND does not seem to be integrating with surrounding landowners…economic concerns
  • Plan reads as ‘leveling the playing field’ between conservation and development – priorities need to be better clarified

Healthy economy:

  • Concerns raised about development resulting in loss of agricultural land – will plan provide grounds to say ‘no’ to this in the future?
  • Forestry: logging in this region needs to be done in a sustainable, low-impact way
  • Agriculture: appears to be little support in plan for agriculture workers and other people making a living off the land
  • Energy: Lots of focus on energy development, but the only renewable mentioned is wind – what about solar and hydro power?
  • Education: need diversified college programs that include trades to address shortage of tradespeople
    • Also need to include training & development for increased salaries in the supporting indicators for employment
    • Infrastructure: Need to reverse planned development of infrastructure corridors and consult with landowners first
    • Idea: include opportunities for establishment of a consortium of investors in a given area who will take on stewardship responsibilities for a tax or fee
    • Plan mentions cumulative effects thresholds for industry – but doesn’t specify what they are
    • Lots of thoughts on tourism:
      • Coordination between all levels of government is needed for tourism to be effective
      • Plan is missing opportunities for grasslands tourism
      • Who will manage the consequences of tourism?
      • Need to clearly outline where and how people can use off-highway vehicles and ensure this is properly enforced
      • More focus needed on providing better infrastructure and essential services for private tourism and recreation
Photo of a person riding a quad

A theme of the session: recreational access is important – but so is enforcement

Biodiversity management framework:

  • Plan says ‘maintain’ biodiversity – our goal should be to improve, not just maintain
  • If it sends people into sensitive areas, biodiversity monitoring may cause more harm than good; if we pursue it, should make sure it is coordinated
  • Castle/Crown environmental areas should be protected at lower elevations – need to include the valleys as well as the peaks
    • Connectivity between the river valleys in Castle should be protected
    • Off-highway vehicle users still being allowed in Castle protection area – this poses risk to headwaters
    • Concern with focus on Eastern Slopes – there are other sensitive areas in the region
    • Stark contrast with no new protected areas/conservation areas in prairies east of Highway 2 – why is the focus on the Eastern Slopes?
    • Attendee liked the Pekiski and Livingstone Heritage Rangeland – should have more of these in other locations (example – south of Cypress Hills)
    • Concerns over potential loss of native grasslands to potato farming
    • Why allow industry into areas at all – why not just make these areas ‘no-go’ areas?

Public land: 

  • In general, participants thought this section of the plan is good
  • Section does a good job of identifying and managing invasive species
  • Recreation:
    • More regulation and enforcement of different forms of recreation is needed on public lands
    • To reduce cumulative impact, do not improve open campsites
    • Need better mechanisms for resolving disputes between different users
    • Grasslands:
      • Support re-establishment of native grasslands
      • Need clarification on list of allowable activities on intact native grasslands where irrigation potential exists
      • Better management of water levels is needed in grassland areas
      • To fulfill intention of this section, implementation must create more conservation areas in the White Area grasslands
      • Need to coordinate access to public land better across all levels of government
      • Some participants likened the expansion of park lands to urban sprawl – should expand recreation use in the parks that are existing, rather than creating new ones

Stewardship and conservation of private/leased land:

  • Plan talks about ‘enabling’ stewardship – this language makes current stewards of private/leased lands feel like their efforts aren’t being recognized
  • Government should actively advertise for/solicit people to donate land for conservation easements and natural areas
  • One participant had questions regarding grazing leases – will the plan change how these are assigned/transferred? Right now, can existing leaseholders transfer leases to people outside immediate family?

Air and water quality:

  • Growth (of population and industry) mean that both air and water quality issues are a concern
  • These sections are too general – they sound good but there are too many details that still need to be sorted out
  • More government resources are needed for measuring and monitoring
  • Water:
    • More education needed. Albertans need to understand water – how it impacts us and how we impact it.
    • Groundwater quality is an issue with growing communities: septic fields, determining necessity for water treatment plants
    • Plan’s success relies on collaboration with Alberta’s WPACs – WPACs should be included in implementation, not merely regulation
    • Concern with lack of funding for Water for Life – if we’re going to meet target outcomes, funding needs to be consistent
    • Headwater protection is very important but lacks enough emphasis and enforcement in the plan
    • Need to use caution when discussing transfer of water rights
    • Government needs to be more proactive on flood mitigation and take preventative measures, update data models
    • Disparity between our ability to forecast future use of water and capacity to forecast future flows – need better ways to do this
Another common theme: stronger action is needed to protect the province's headwaters.

Another common theme: stronger action is needed to protect the province’s headwaters.

Strengthening communities:

  • Municipalities are concerned with where the resources to support the plan and its requirements will come from
  • Does this plan have redundancies with municipal plans?
  • Appreciate that Métis and Aboriginal peoples have been consulted, but it would be nice to have a wider representation of peoples at public sessions so that viewpoints can be shared across groups
  • Collaborative approach (between communities and government) for flood mitigation is key
  • Need more tools for education on the plan and the terms & principles it contains (e.g. biodiversity)
  • Plan needs more support for building sustainable communities
  • Concern that bigger communities may get prioritized over smaller ones in the plan; concern about the risk of ‘selling out’

Our next stops: 

November 27 – Okotoks and Brooks

November 28 – Cochrane and Red Deer

Intrigued? Remember – you can provide feedback on the draft plan through an online workbook or by attending one of the information sessions being held throughout November. Feedback on this blog or the session? Tweet us – @AENV_SRD.

2 thoughts on “What we heard: the last week of SSRP discussions revs up in Medicine Hat

  1. Glad to see so much input from Red Deer area. As Canada being one of the only countries left with pristine water ways, we need to consider our water in terms of life’s sustainability (all life, now and future) and not in terms of another great way to make or keep a buck. In Alberta, we are currently all dependent on food, water, air and oil for survival. Considering the inter- relationships of all 4, factoring in that we are a species made up 78-93% water, I’m opting that clean, non- tampered with, water stays at the top of our food chain. While this provincial government initiative seems thorough and collaborative most of us weren’t born yesterday. I ask; what is our federal government doing in relation to water? Who currently pays our provincial gov’t, both publicly and privately and what is ultimately driving their decisions?….. money or sustainability? If we really want to take this down, maybe consider asking yourself the same questions… is your bottom line money or sustainability?…

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