What we heard: Spruce Grove talks North Saskatchewan resource development and urban growth

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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.

Last Thursday, we capped off our first week of NSRP community sessions with a great conversation in Spruce Grove. 30 attendees came out to share their views, including representatives of Parkland County, Talisman Energy, Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Altus Geomatics, TransAlta, Department of National Defence, Onoway River Valley Conservation Association, Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association, Wagner Natural Area Association, Alberta Outfitters Association, and the Spruce Grove Examiner.

Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Some attendees expressed strong support for regional planning (as opposed to municipalities and counties planning separately)
  • Vision should emphasize scientific knowledge, innovation, green energy
  • Statement is very high level – more specific details are needed, including what actions will be needed to achieve outcomes
  • The economic development and environmental outcomes are linked and these sections should be combined to reflect this
  • Region is too big for a single plan – break into several sub-regional plans and then integrate them
  • Vision should stress the roles of education, responsibility & stewardship
  • Aggregate mining and energy deserve a higher profile in the plan
  • Potential loss of prime agricultural land is a key concern and retention of land should be prioritized in outcomes section
  • Should we be improving the quality of life for some at the expense of others?
Photo of a coniferous forest in Alberta.

Forestry was a hot topic at the Spruce Grove session.

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Economy is over-reliant on natural resources – need to expand high-tech industries
  • Should diversify economy through sustainable forestry and tourism
  • Concern about loss of forestry land to other uses (like recreation)
  • Need adequate recognition of the impacts that forestry has on other species (including caribou), tourism, recreation
  • Prime agricultural land is being threatened and fragmented
  • Some attendees think we should be using less coal domestically and limiting our coal exports; others are concerned that could might be abandoned as an industry
  • Need to identify key transportation corridors (especially to the south) – this make energy production and exporting easier
  • New power plants should be built closer to population centres
  • Emphasize education & awareness of environment-economic relationships to help build social licence for development
  • Albertans should not have to pay for new transmission lines built for exporting
  • Need to acknowledge that forestry industry is already heavily regulated and committed to long-term environmental planning

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Everything we do will impact the environment – the challenge is to understand balance/tipping points
  • Need to define what constitutes ‘smart development’
  • More comprehensive biodiversity information is needed
  • Concern about old un-reclaimed wellsites & grandfathering of current status
  • Existing plans and policies (Public Lands Act, Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, as well as policies for areas like the Eastern Slopes) need updating to incorporate new objectives like better land use and recreation management
  • Management decisions need to be science-based

Thoughts on air and water: 

  • Need to fund airshed and watershed groups – their work benefits all Albertans
  • Rural areas near power plants have unique air quality issues – need to address these
  • Need to address basic lack of information on functions of river and groundwater systems
  • Require better assessment of the impact of industry on watersheds
  • Suggestion: create an umbrella structure for watershed groups
  • Require industry to fund wetlands management
  • More baseline info is needed to advance watershed & groundwater management
  • Protecting the health of our river systems is key – concern about the impacts of aggregate mining & peat harvesting on groundwater. Need to develop a groundwater test to determine appropriate proximity of aggregate mines to rivers.
Photo of a boy splashing in water.

Many participants think that more information about our watersheds is needed to help us make the best management decisions.

Thoughts on public land:

  • Need to provide more incentives for private land stewardship
  • Some support for new conservation areas as long as they don’t impact existing uses; others think we should define conservation areas according to their desired impacts
  • Need better strategies for managing and maintaining hiking and off-highway vehicle trails

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Need to support urban growth in smaller centres
  • Province should allow transferable development credits for areas with higher population densities
  • Concern about the cumulative effects in one community affecting others nearby
  • Urban sprawl threatens the uniqueness of nearby smaller communities
  • Plan needs more emphasis on not encroaching on indigenous treaties and rights
  • Need more data on historical resources & need to integrate that into planning decisions
  • We’re losing youth from our rural communities because of lack of education and employment opportunities – we need to address this
  • More concise and clear provincial and municipal processes needed to guide development
  • Need to support reliable, high-speed broadband service in rural areas – this will enhance social capacity
  • More provincial support needed for municipalities – e.g. to help develop geographic information system resources
Photo of a firepit with an extinguished fire.

Some attendees would like to see more managed camping facilities.

Thoughts about recreation:

  • Need more and better recreation opportunities – parks, etc. Concern about ensuring continued access to the land for recreation.
  • Better trail systems & dedicated camping facilities needed, including support for private facilities
  • Support more private investment in parks and other recreation opportunities
  • Need for more education about low-impact recreation on the land
  • More monitoring & enforcement needed to address off-highway vehicle damage to private land
  • Not enough dedicated land for recreation – this leads to more random camping & more damage to the land
  • Concern about off-highway vehicle damage – more trails and better enforcement needed. Some attendees think that off-highway vehicles should come with fees to support trail development and maintenance (could be associated with sale or insurance).

 

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