What we heard: recreation and agriculture were hot-button topics in St. Paul

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Over the next month, we’ll be in 21 communities across Alberta talking about the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan. The purpose of this first round of consultations is to hear from people who live and work in the region about their vision for the area and their thoughts on the draft Terms of Reference for the plan. You can see the summaries for all communities here.

On Wednesday, we were in St. Paul talking North Saskatchewan Regional planning with 17 Albertans, including local residents and representatives from the Beaver River Watershed Alliance, Lakeland Agricultural Research Association, Iron Horse Trail, St. Paul Chamber of Commerce and Ducks Unlimited Canada. Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Vision should be more focused on the future
  • Support for regional planning, but process needs to respect local expertise, interests and autonomy. Right now, local residents are losing control to provincial directives.
  • Good planning has the potential to help us balance growth
  • Workbook is biased against recreation – vision should more explicitly support recreation
  • Challenges in the region are too diverse to be captured under a single regional plan
  • Areas to the east of Edmonton not fully included in vision
  • Current vision promotes growth at the expense of agriculture land, building people-friendly communities, expanding recreation
  • Agree with the vision’s focus on sustained stewardship
  • Need to focus on more than one outcome for economic development
  • Support for vision’s focus on tourism
  • The importance of education is not fully captured in the plan
  • Currently, economy seems to trump both environmental & community priorities – all three should be of equal importance. These are interconnected pillars rather than silos and the plan needs to recognize that.

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • It will be difficult to reconcile the economic goals and interests of the region’s different areas
  • Industrial development needs a longer-term management plan – 150 years+
  • Lack of transportation infrastructure & strain on current infrastructure are major issues
  • Coal has no place in a 50-year plan because of environmental concerns – renewables should be featured more prominently
  • Need to develop economic opportunities besides the oil and gas sector
  • Need to properly ‘buffer’ the heavy industry in the Heartland and other areas
  • Need to add more value to agricultural and energy products
  • Building recreation opportunities builds tourism & supports the economy

Thoughts about agriculture:

  • Cities need to grow up, not out – too much valuable agricultural land being lost
  • The Industrial Heartland and Anthony Henday Drive are built on some of Canada’s best agricultural land
  • Agriculture is a “second class citizen” when it comes to services
  • Transportation of agricultural products is a major issue.
Photo of Anthony Henday Drive

Anthony Henday Drive in Edmonton. Photo credit.

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • Biodiversity Management Framework must be species-focused
  • Healthy ecosystems are needed for communities and environment to flourish
  • Better forest fire barriers are needed
  • More focus needed on cumulative effects management – “everything needs to be integrated”
  • Landowners should be compensated for their stewardship efforts

Thoughts about water and air:

  • The plan does not mention flood mitigation and headwaters management – these are important topics
  • Quality of lake water is declining because people are pumping sewage directly into lakes – must address this
  • Blue green algae is a concern
  • Lake/water levels and groundwater protection are important goals
  • Clear objectives for wetlands and lakefronts – no further net loss and restoration goals – should be embedded in the plan
  • Wetlands reclamation is a regional concern – should not be managed province-wide
  • WPACs need mandate to monitor and additional funding to perform this function
  • The Beaver River watershed crosses multiple regions (Lower Athabasca and North Saskatchewan) and needs a sub-regional plan
  • Landowners do not have the funds to properly mitigate their impact on groundwater
  • Air quality is a major concern in the northeast of the region – poor in Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan areas

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PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, RECREATION AND CULTURE

  • More resources needed for the ‘social’ pillar of the plan
  • Infrastructure doesn’t just refer to transportation – ‘social infrastructure’ is just as important
  • There are lots of cultural and historical resources in this region – we should be promoting them
  • We should be on the cutting edge for environmental education
  • Currently, huge ‘shadow communities’ exist that don’t support local issues

Thoughts about recreation: Photo of a canoe on a lake

  • Building a regional trail system is an opportunity to encourage inter-municipal cooperation & infrastructure
  • Access to water bodies for recreation should be improved
  • ATV riders do a lot of damage. More enforcement on trails is needed & more control of ATVs would help prevent conflicts between ATV riders and landowners.
  • Opinion: ATV riders go where they shouldn’t because they have nowhere else to go – need to build in regulated opportunities

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