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.
Yesterday, we stopped by Wainwright to chat about the future of the North Saskatchewan region. We heard lots of original ideas – including a proposal for better regional bus service, a bigger focus on Alberta’s “100-mile diet”, and the use of high-tech drones to help our Fish and Wildlife officers enforce the backcounty.
23 Albertans came out to this session, including private citizens and representatives of the Battle River Watershed Alliance, Husky Energy, Ducks Unlimited, the Municipal District of Wainwright, Talisman Energy, the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Forces Base Wainwright.
Here’s what we heard:
VISION AND OUTCOMES
- The vision sounds like it will try to maintain the region’s status quo, rather than try to change it – some attendees think this is positive, as the status quo “works for the MD of Wainwright and this area of the region”
- When it comes to environment – not enough to “maintain” – need to enhance
- A focus on responsible development is missing from this section
- “Promoting efficient use of land” doesn’t capture need to prioritize and facilitate multiple uses
- Healthy environment vision speaks to air and water values, but does not mention land.
- Need to clarify the meaning of “built environment”
- Oil and gas is mentioned twice in this section – gives the impression that it’s more important than other factors
- Vision needs more focus on economic innovation
- How will the plan address promotion and resources for the eastern portion of the region in order to improve competitive advantage?
- Vision emphasizes “shared stewardship” – but where will the financial responsibility fall?
- Focus on social “needs” might not might be the best wording – social values go beyond needs
- Development of the Regional Advisory Council needs to ensure representation of all sectors, areas of the region
- Hope that comments from all parts of the region – not just the capital area – are considered
- Need to see hierarchy of regulations and where the regional plan will reside on that hierarchy
- Greater emphasis on innovation needed in all sectors
- Need to define concept of “value-add” – definition is provided for energy, but does translate to other sectors
- Need to consider overall economic footprint – not just industrial footprint
- The topic of cumulative effects management needs to be in the economy section as well as the environment section
- Economic topics cannot be discussed in isolation – they are impacted by the plan’s other sections
- Need to encourage implementation of best practices in all industries – not just oil and gas
- Land management requirements are uncertain – this impacts industry, as it impacts competitiveness and makes development in the region less appealing
- Land – not economy – should be the first priority. We should plan appropriate land management with a preventative approach in mind, rather than letting economics dictate things and then restoring.
- Concern about developing a prosperous economy at the expense of the environment. “The ‘built environment’ is taking over the land.”
- Need to recognize the current market for local foods (the “100 mile diet”) – this makes local markets for agriculture more important
- The current status quo neglects oil and gas opportunities on the west side of the region (i.e. Duvernay Plain)
- Support for the development of long-term opportunities for tourism (particularly related to recreation) on Crown lands. Need to designate particular areas to different types of recreation, like off-highway vehicle use, to make this sustainable.
- Concern that those coming to the area seasonally for recreation impact infrastructure and put pressure on services
- Some attendees expressed pride about our current industrial regulations & technology – important to sustain these levels
Thoughts about infrastructure:
- Upgrading transportation system to enhance competitiveness will be a challenge – need an integrated approach to infrastructure. Achieving connectivity of utility corridors is an important goal.
- Need to coordinate infrastructure for multiple pipelines
- Need to review current setbacks to transportation corridors and how they affect landowners
- Government needs to encourage better regional bus service in the region
- The safety requirements of transportation corridors need more attention
HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
- When will the environmental management frameworks be released? We can’t really implement the plan without them.
- Baseline information needs to be established for development of management frameworks. We should use the information already collected in the area (by organizations like the Alberta Lake Management Society) to establish these baselines
- Not enough confidence in the government resources available to successfully enhance these frameworks (through measurement, monitoring, etc.)
- Scale of environmental loss in this region is well-documented and we have reached a threshold – it must be stopped
- Plan needs a proactive versus reactive approach to environmental management. Too much focus on mitigation at the back-end – need more processes & incentives to minimize the foot-print at the front-end.
- All of these values seem to be given equal weight – but they compete. What are the real priorities going to be?
- Revisit where industry is allowed to locate and improve monitoring in those areas before new developments are allowed to begin
- Concerns raised about how we choose locations for conservation areas and what the trade-offs are
- Need more buy-in from landowners – offer more compensation for stewardship, protection of sensitive areas like wetlands
- Education is key to responsible land use – but enforcement is also important
- Not enough to continue current history/practices – province needs to be a driver of change
- Need to recognize environmentally sensitive areas and incorporate protection of those into the plan
- Fish and Wildlife management and enforcement priorities need to be included in the plan
- Wetland conservation and restoration are proven means of meeting many of the water quality, quantity (storage, drought proofing and flood attenuation), biodiversity and other clearly recognized priorities of the region. The new wetland policy represents a great regional plan implementation tool – apply it.
- Clear objectives of no further wetlands loss and restoration in areas of high loss should be firmly embedded in the plan
Thoughts about air and water:
- The area around the MD of Wainwright is unique in terms of watershed planning – water source comes from Battle Lake versus the mountains – and this needs recognition
- More emphasis needed on drought management and flood mitigation
- Need to classify the water bodies in the region and then enforce those classifications
- Need a better goal for watershed management – “advancing” is too vague
- Need to establish who the biggest current users are for water basins
- Mention of Battle River Watershed Alliance in the plan – will the government consider the input of our WPACs and airshed groups?
- More information needed on who monitors air quality in the region and who is leading the initiative to improve it
- If major emitters have to be members of local airshed organizations, there should be a collective monitoring strategy
PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION
- It’s hard for general public to comment on Aboriginal practices because we don’t know enough
- Provide more opportunities to use existing infrastructure & “build up, not out.” This reduces demand on the land – particularly valuable agricultural land.
Thoughts about recreation:
- Need to address conflicts, liability issues that result from public access to public land
- Government needs sufficient resources to manage/enforce recreation – don’t think that the government has these resources
- Appreciation that it’s not easier for off-highway vehicle users to access agricultural land
- Options for camping: government development of more public campgrounds versus more private, commercial campgrounds
- Provide more opportunities for private investors to invest in recreation
- We need to create equal opportunities for recreation across all income levels and interests to truly meet the needs of all users
- Need to make more recreational opportunities closer to major centres to service urban populations
- Issue of enforcement: recreation users are not always respectful, no matter whether they are local or visiting – “oversight” for this is difficult.
- Off-highway vehicles will always be damaging to areas like native grasslands – we need to restrict where these vehicles can go
- Suggestion: create programs with membership dues to develop trail systems and educate users (like they have in other regions)
- Suggestion: use existing infrastructure to create new trail systems (e.g. Iron Horse Trail system uses old rail lines)
- Suggestion: use drones & other new technology for recreation enforcement