What we heard: St. Albert talks managing recreation, monitoring & growth in the North Saskatchewan region

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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 find the session information for your community here and see the summaries for all communities here.

We had an interesting mix of attendees at last week’s St. Albert NSRP session – and they brought some pretty interesting perspectives with them. 33 participants came out to share their visions and concerns, including the City of St. Albert, Town of Devon, Reperio Resources, St. Albert residents, Alberta Canola Producers Commission (ACPC), County of Athabasca, Wagner Natural Area Society, Big Lake Environmental Support, Alberta Wilderness Association, Department of National Defence, Husky Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL), Lafarge Canada, and Shell Canada.

Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Attendees appreciated the opportunity to discuss the plan and see the process behind it – but there was also some skepticism about how much the plan will reflect public input
  • Making ‘healthy economy’ the first section seems to imply that it’s the first priority – sustainable communities should be the first priority. Growth should not be promoted for the sake of growth.
  • Some attendees believe that equal weight should be given to all three themes (economy, environment and communities). Others thought that healthy environment should be the most important priority.
  • Why is the plan’s emphasis on the industrial heartland and the capital region? Other parts of the region (Nisku, Devon, etc.) not covered – the plan needs to focus on the whole region
  • More attention to agriculture needed throughout the vision
  • More detail needed on economic outcomes. We should focus on sustainable development, value-added industries, diversification into alternative energies – we have the potential to become the world’s “alternative energy hub”.
  • Water is a more pressing issue than oil and needs to be a primary focus of the plan
  • The plan’s Terms of Reference section is large and overwhelming – simplify these.
  • More emphasis needed on collaboration with federal and municipal governments – these governments also have land-use needs
  • Vision reflects the status quo – if it’s a plan for the next 50 years, needs to be more forward-thinking
  • Explanation needed of what environmental stewardship means and who is responsible for it
  • Environmental management depends on the establishment of ‘baseline’ values for water, air, etc.
  • Economic, environmental and social outcomes are not independent and must be balanced – vision needs to make this clear
  • Quality of life should be emphasized more in the vision – recreation is important not just for tourism, but also for residents
  • More resources should be available for communities and groups to raise concerns about the plan and its implementation
  • Plan needs more emphasis on protecting agricultural land
  • The Regional Profile should not be called a “living document” – use a different term
  • Concern about potential public land sales by the province
Alberta's local market for produce is big - and important. Photo credit.

Alberta’s local market for produce is big – and important. Photo credit.

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Need better regulations and standards for land reclamation
  • Enforce reclamation responsibilities of agricultural operations of all sizes
  • Open to government opening up more lands for aggregate mining as long as the industry pays for reclamation afterwards
  • Local agriculture market needs more emphasis – the future of farming is in direct, local sales to consumers. Incentives are needed for small-scale local farming & regulations should be relaxed for this kind of production.
  • Need to preserve prime agricultural lands – province needs to take a stance on this issue
  • Consistent environmental standards needed on an industry-by-industry basis
  • Companies should be responsible for adequate liability funding – should not be allowed to externalize costs.
  • The plan should profile the region’s opportunities and challenges for other sectors – education, financial services, manufacturing, IT – this is a missed opportunity
  • More focus needed on efficient transportation – mass transit, high-speed rail, etc.
  • Concerns about connectivity in some areas (Highway 16 listed as an example)
  • Industries need to collaborate more – multi-use corridors for transportation and transmission, more incentives for multi-use collaboration are needed
  • Our economy must reflect global market forces – there is no mention of trade at all in the plan
  • Need to handle land-use conflicts between farmers and rural residents – these are on-going
  • Need to encourage environmental stewardship through industry education, regulations and incentives
  • No mention of the role that residential development – construction, building permits, etc. – plays in the economy

Thoughts about oil and gas development & renewable resources:

  • The needs of the oil and gas & agriculture sectors need to be balanced
  • Some attendees think that we’re not getting the value our resources are worth and we should focus on value-added products to increase profits
  • Plan should not focus so much on non-renewable resources – this is an opportunity to develop a sustainable economy. More focus needed on renewable energy. But – also need to recognize that the oil sands is an important economic driver for both the province and Canada
  • We should take advantage of the current market opportunities, but also need a plan for long-term economic sustainability – non-renewable resources are finite
  • Oil and gas royalties should be earmarked to address the environmental impacts of development

Thoughts about tourism:

  • Tourism is under-represented in the plan – more resources needed to market tourism internationally
  • Explore opportunities for forest and land reclamation tourism in Alberta
  • Often, the most popular areas for recreation are very sensitive – need to restrict access to these areas
  • Development of golf courses has negative environmental impacts – groundwater runoff, etc.
Golf courses are great at bringing in the 'green' - but they can also be hard on the environment. Photo credit.

Golf courses are great at bringing in the ‘green’ – but they can also be hard on the environment. Photo credit.

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • More conservation areas are needed (in particular, we need protection for a sand hill area) and existing natural areas are not protected well enough
  • Process needed to identify, inventory and prioritize conservation areas
  • Multi-stakeholder forum needed for developing and practicing “shared stewardship”
  • ESRD is the department responsible for stewardship of the land – but does not have the resources or direction necessary
  • Study needed on the impacts of beaver dams on trees, water quality
  • Need to connect protected areas of animal habitat and areas used for non-motorized recreation
  • Support for initiatives to support stewardship on private lands
  • Need to reclaim abandoned pipelines and orphaned well sites. Additional incentives and funds are needed to re-develop Brownfields
  • Does the plan prepare for climate change? We need to anticipate a drier climate – this will change our environment substantially
  • Government talks about “world class” environmental monitoring – we need the resources and funding to ‘walk the walk’
  • Wetlands restoration needs to be part of the vision – we need more incentives for agricultural producers and municipalities to maintain wetlands and restore them if they are destroyed
  • Aggregate mining development may create wetlands – this should be considered a ‘credit’ if these industries impact wetlands elsewhere
  • Legislated ‘buffer zones’ are needed between shorelines and development – whether industrial or residential
  • Need more measurable goals and limits on public land disturbance
  • Need to invest in technologies to reduce emissions – both industrial and residential
  • Lesser-known rural and agricultural issues – odours from livestock, dust control – need to be addressed
  • Wildland parks can protect headwaters as well as protecting biodiversity – more are needed in areas like the Bighorn

Thoughts about water and air:

  • As population increases, we’ll need to find ways to reduce emissions. Ideas: provide incentives for car companies to develop lower-emission vehicles and encourage insurance companies to give incentives for small vehicles
  • Smaller municipalities need resources to dispose of sewage properly – avoid contamination of water bodies
  • Plan needs to support local airsheds
  • Government and industry funding should be used to support local air monitoring partnerships
  • Differentiation of point and non-point pollutants is needed, and more research is needed on non-point sources of pollution
  • Government needs a proactive, consistent approach to lake management
  • Suggestion: develop a consolidated groundwater base
  • Glacier deaths will have to inform our watershed management
  • Support for Alberta’s Cows and Fish program – riparian management
  • Better groundwater management needed – developments have been allowed in groundwater ‘re-charge’ areas, which has limited their usefulness. Uses of groundwater should also limited.
  • No mention of the issues caused by sod farming – irrigiation, nutrient leaching into waterbodies. Preservation and replacement of top soil also not addressed.
  • Need to address the impact of mining on groundwater
  • We should be maximize the ability of our natural river basins to store precipitation
  • Certain compounds – ozone and carbon disulphide – should be a higher priority for groundwater monitoring and mitigation
Photo of people riding off-highway vehicles.

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

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Plan should provide resources for garden sharing and community gardens
  • Need to address garbage and waste issues – maybe by increasing recycling and bio-energy programs?
  • Plan needs to recognize and protect historical and cultural areas
  • Need to provide the next generation with more incentives to stay on farms
  • Urban areas need to grow up, not out – stop annexing rural areas. Government should curb sprawl and promote upward growth.
  • Seniors in this region need more health and safety supports
  • The plan’s decision-making processes must be transparent
  • Plan needs to focus on the future for all Albertans – not just those in certain areas – and needs to plan for increasing populations
  • More collaboration needed between municipalities
  • Need to invest strategically in rural communities
  • Plan needs a more long-term, inter-generational focus
  • The plan does not offer sufficient protection for traditional land and wildlife uses valued by Aboriginal peoples
  • The general public needs more information on Aboriginal land use
  • More local control needed over licensing and approval processes

Thoughts about recreation:

  • Need more education about responsible recreation – but also more enforcement
  • Some attendees think that education for off-highway vehicle users should be mandatory, and that riders should have to pay trail fees in conjunction with vehicle licences.
  • Suggestion of ‘peer enforcement’ by off-highway vehicle clubs and other groups
  • Should use wildlife cameras to monitor abuse to trails
  • More recreation access needed for Lois Hole provincial park
  • Encourage private landowners to charge admission for off-highway vehicle use
  • Our trails are being over-used – why are we supporting damage from off-highway vehicles to wetlands, riparian areas and other sensitive zones?
  • Suggestion: set aside certain areas for off-highway vehicle use and restrict access to other, more sensitive areas
  • More public access is needed to existing recreation areas in the Capital region
  • Hunting and fishing rights are not clear in certain areas

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