What we heard: talking North Sask regional planning in Wetaskawin

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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.

June is flying by and we’re already kicking off the third week of our community conversations about the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan. We’ll be in Smoky Lake, Wainwright, St. Albert, Vegreville, Leduc and Sherwood Park this week to talk #NSRP – we hope you’ll come out and share your thoughts with us.

But first, we have one more summary to post from last week. 19 Albertans came out to talk regional planning at last Thursday’s session in Wetaskawin, including representatives of the City of Wetaskawin, Wetaskawin County, Battle River Watershed Alliance, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, and West Central Planning Agency.

Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Vision should be about striving for improvement – not maintaining the status quo
  • Plan is too static and concentrated on addressing current needs – need to reflect new and changing technologies and ideas
  • Comments that several items – renewable energy, recreation, tourism, food production – need to be mentioned or emphasized in vision statement
  • Some communities – like Battle River – need to be mentioned explicitly in vision statement
  • The vision’s reference to “key” industries precludes emerging industries
  • Outcomes need to include a goal of protecting high quality agricultural land from development for other uses – some counties have already done this
  • Good focus on conservation areas and the landscape – but need clarification on certain terms. What is meant by ‘shared stewardship’ and ‘biodiversity’?
  • The plan needs to emphasize the variety of different ecosystems within the region
  • Need a more explicit reference to cumulative effects in the vision statement
  • Vision statement should refer to all “Albertans” instead of singling out different groups
  • Parts of the vision statement are too long, wordy and detailed – need to be more succinct so that they are clear for the general population
  • Outcomes are concise and understandable. In particular, the ‘healthy economy’ outcome has a nice general statement.
  • Vision should not preclude the possibility of expansion
  • More encouragement is needed for people to attend consultation sessions
Preserving arable land continues to be a hot topic at NSRP sessions.

Preserving arable land continues to be a hot topic at NSRP sessions.

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Environmental footprint should be more explicitly discussed in this section

    Photo of a family camping on the lake shore. Photo credit: Travel Alberta

    Some attendees stressed the need to promote Alberta’s smaller lakes and communities as tourism destinations.

  • Need to make sure that federal and provincial regulations are aligned & that implementation is consistent
  • Need a regional marketing plan for tourism in order to reduce competition, increase coordination, promote tourism for smaller towns, villages, lakes.
  • Regional transportation opportunities – especially public transportation – are not being addressed. Suggestion: build railway from Edmonton to Calgary and Edmonton to Fort McMurray
  • Should prioritize building multi-use corridors for transportation, pipelines, transmission lines
  • Transportation and transmission are separate issues and should be dealt with in separate sections
  • More emphasis is needed on the benefits that agriculture provides to Albertans and the ways in which it can assist environmental stewardship. Food production should be mentioned as meeting a human need, not only as an industry.
  • More incentives needed to keep young people on family farms (e.g. low-interest financing, loans for young farmers)
  • Energy section is fair and balanced – but more emphasis is needed on value-added energy production
  • Too much emphasis on existing oil and gas – should also mention the successes of our current renewable energy industry
  • High cost of buying land should be recognized as an industry start-up cost

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT  

  • Regulations are needed to ensure we maintain adequate tree cover, on both public and private lands
  • Support for government recognizing private landowners for their stewardship initiatives
  • More stringent and timely regulations needed for aggregate mine reclamation
  • The definition section for this topic is helpful
  • Management frameworks for this section are important – we need a timeframe to develop these. However, some commenters wanted to emphasize that these frameworks should not be “burdensome” on taxpayers and industry – they must be fiscally sustainable.
  • Need to ensure that we look at appropriate indicator species in the context of the ecosystems that support them
  • This is a big region – how will regional goals translate to on-the-ground action in each area?
  • Need to identify and inventory our wetlands and other significant ecological areas
  • Environmental regulations need to leave industry enough room to operate
  • Need sustainable, best practices for development in environmentally sensitive areas
  • We should use recent study of ecologically sensitive areas in this region to identify new conservation area candidates
  • Support for biodiversity protection on both private and public lands

Thoughts about water and air:

  • Support for more airshed monitoring
  • It’s important for the plan to mention the work done by Alberta’s watershed groups and encourage collaboration
  • Support for responsible allocation of water via the appropriate processes
  • Common provincial and federal standards needed for water quality
  • Support for the development of a groundwater management framework – but we need to fill info gaps
  • Industry should be held to the same water quality management standards as municipality water treatment plants are
  • The plan references integrated views for watersheds – what are these? Whose views are they?

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Clearer definition needed for ‘people-friendly’ communities
  • Support for the idea of planning between municipalities – this should be stressed more
  • Need to acknowledge the enhanced planning and municipal collaboration that is already happening
  • Need to ensure Aboriginal knowledge is incorporated into the plan
  • Need to ensure that municipalities are aware of regional planning decisions
  • Concern about “urban sprawl” and loss of arable land
  • More emphasis on community plans that incorporate greener transportation – including cycling and walking
  • Concern about safety in communities near railways. Focus on not having “negative development” close to municipalities.
  • Infrastructure development poses a serious challenge – need to recognize that

Thoughts on recreation: 

  • More recreation areas needed – but proper management of these areas is needed in order to prevent environmental damage
  • Need more enforcement of rules in areas used by off-highway vehicles
  • Need to connect and build on our existing trail systems
  • Should promote recreation land trust sites – these sites already have rules; we should promote them
Photo of people riding off-highway vehicles.

Off-highway vehicles were once again a hot topic during our Wetaskawin session.

Interested in sharing your views? Find info on our upcoming sessions here. Join the conversation online by following us on Twitter or using the #NSRP hashtag.

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