What we heard: talking North Sask economy, environment & planning in Smoky Lake

lus-homepage-header-1

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.

We kicked off this week’s NSRP dialogues with a small but rousing session in the Town of Smoky Lake. Economic development – particularly at the municipal level – was a particularly hot topic at this session. 11 Albertans, including representatives of the Town of Smoky Lake, Smoky Lake County, the Smoky Lake Chamber of Commerce, and the Smoky Lake Signal came out to tell us their hopes and concerns for the future of the region.

Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Where is the information/data used for land use planning coming from?
  • Need to focus on building quality of life for residents – lots of cultural and recreation opportunities missed in smaller communities. “Resources are promised, but not provided.”
  • Outcomes should focus more on the environment – need standardized environmental protocols, clear regulations, baselines for environmental management
  • Plan needs clearer language – need to clarify environmental “buzzwords”
  • Plan places too much emphasis on energy development – other topics, like history & small communities, are lacking
  • Clarification needed about the process of developing and reviewing the plan
  • Concern that the regional planning process might be overwhelming to some Albertans – reasons for consulting and results need to be made clear
Are too many of the region's graduates leaving for jobs elsewhere?

Are too many of the region’s graduates leaving for jobs elsewhere?

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • We’re letting our graduates leave – energy innovation in Alberta is suffering
  • Should look for cross-opportunities to promote agriculture and energy (e.g. biofuels)
  • Wind energy should only be pursued with sound science, public buy-in, sound economics
  • Political opinions can change public sentiment about different energy types – be mindful of this
  • Should develop clear, transparent bench-mark standards for industry’s environmental monitoring
  • Smaller-scale agriculture should be encouraged
  • Should be investing in eco-tourism, local cultural sites (example given: Metis Crossing in Smoky Lake). Should also be developing recreation infrastructure (example given: sites along Victoria Trail).
  • Stop “building to minimums” in the region – build for the future
  • Concern about economic growth in Smoky Lake – industries have left and there is no one to replace them
  • Concern about plan’s potential negative impact on the oil and gas industry
Wind power has been successful in Pincher Creek - but we need to move cautiously when expanding it to other regions.

Wind power has been successful in Pincher Creek – but expansions to other areas need to be economically and scientifically sound.

Thoughts on infrastructure:

  • County highways are over-taxed by oil and gas industry. They aren’t repaired and upgraded appropriately and aren’t expanded where necessary.
  • Secondary highways have not been finished and are beginning to deteriorate
  • Should implement multi-use corridors throughout the region
  • Suggestion: should bring back more rail transport to relieve pressure on highways
  • Light-trail transit might help sustain the economy, develop tourism (to Eastern Lakes and other destinations)
  • Counties like Smoky Lake get little or no benefit from aggregate mining (as an example) – should receive compensation that can go towards funding infrastructure improvements

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Some attendees are impressed with Alberta’s Integrated Resource Management System
  • Baseline measurements needed for invasive species, biodiversity, ecosystem functions
  • Need consistent standards for air, water and land pollution
  • Need clearer standards around the development and regulation of provincial parks
  • Hanmore Lake should be considered for provincial park status
  • Education is an important part of ecosystem management
  • Should provide incentives to return to multi-generational, smaller scale agricultural practices
  • Plan needs to specify environmental concerns for each part of the region
Invasive species are a threat to the region and management frameworks must include benchmarks for dealing with them.

Invasive species are a threat to the region – and management frameworks must include benchmarks for dealing with them.

Thoughts about water and air:

  • City of Edmonton “monopolizes” water in region
  • Criticism: the Water for Life plan forces people into using regional water lanes that draw from the North Saskatchewan when it is more secure and sustainable to use local sources. There is no back-up for this regional water line.
  • Water management policies should be made with input from all stakeholders
  • We shouldn’t allow inter-basin water transfers – these are potentially “disastrous”
  • Setting controls on lake water users is very important
  • Testing and the process/personnel responsible for measurements should be transparent and accessible
  • Need to decentralize our water systems and re-think our sources
  • Water quality data needs to be kept and inform long-term management
  • Need to establish measurable, objective standards for air quality

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Under first regional outcome, need to add reference to ‘supporting community development needs’
  • The Capital Region Growth Plan is not collaborative
  • Need better education around the responsibilities that come with recreation – off-highway vehicle use, camping, fishing
  • Recreation areas need to be expanded and more created
  • Need respect for shared Aboriginal sites
  • Strengthen lines of communication between Aboriginal groups and local municipalities, building and promoting inter-municipal partnerships
  • More focus on developing public transit in smaller communities
  • Need to look at how to build stable, innovative local economies for municipalities
  • County of Smoky Lake has an inventory of historical buildings – should leverage this for tourism and build more resources like this in other communities

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s