What we heard: talking North Saskatchewan regional planning in Sherwood Park

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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 wrapped up the third week of our Phase One NSRP consultations last Thursday with a lively session in Strathcona County. 32 Albertans came out to talk economy, environment & communities.

Lamont County, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, EPCOR, Sherwood Park Fish & Game, Alberta Wilderness Association, Shell Canada, Strathcona County, Alberta Hiking Association, Glory Lutheran Church, Clover Bar Sand & Gravel, North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, Sherwood Park Chamber of Commerce, Snow and Mud, Alberta Energy Regulator, and the Capital Region Board were represented at these sessions.

Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • The plan’s strategic direction must provide legal and regulatory clarity – who are the authorities and what is their hierarchy? Who has jurisdiction? In particular, clarity is needed on the government’s power to implement the plan
  • Strategic direction – Must provide clarity to legislative and regulatory policies. What is the appropriate authority, rules, jurisdiction etc.?
  • Definitions needed for many terms – “advancing” and “sustaining” environmental values, “built environment”, “working landscape”, “healthy communities”
  • Some attendees think the vision is sufficiently general and a good starting point; others think it is too long
  • Vision only talks about traditional industries (energy, forestry, agriculture) – where is the focus on new industries and technologies? There are other significant industries besides oil and gas. Tourism and recreation are also missing.
  • Vision needs emphasis on building “up versus out”, responsible planning for future growth
  • No reference to limiting or controlling growth in the plan – but our resources are limited. Infinite growth should not be the goal.
  • Vision statement reads as equating Edmonton with the Industrial Heartland – these are not the same
  • Community and social outcomes need to reflect predicted changes to demographics over the next 50 years
  • Good to see Aboriginal groups included from the beginning, as well as outreach efforts to all communities
  • Need to treat Aboriginals as separate people, rather than as a single entity
  • Glad to see environmental stewardship mentioned upfront in ‘Outcomes’ section – but some attendees still feel there is too much focus on economic outcomes – “preservation of environment has to be the number one priority”
  • Groundwater and watershed management needs more emphasis in the vision statement
  • Social outcomes must stress building sustainable municipalities
  • What is the purpose of public advice? Who is the Regional Advisory Council and what is the extent of their power – how does this process work? Overall planning power rests with the government – but it should rest with individuals
  • The vision does not provide clear direction or parameters for agricultural land supply – “no one seems to be in control” and as a result more prime agricultural land is being developed. Municipal governments do not have sufficient say over development.
  • Clearer rule and more education needed about future uses of agricultural land
  • Trade-offs are required for a regional plan (e.g. establishing conversation areas versus development) – is the plan prepared to make those trade-offs?
  • Plan should clarify avenues for provincial-federal cooperation – this is important for many issues

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Need to promote responsible industries that limit their impacts on other industries, communities and the environment. More attention needed to the “industrial footprint” of various sectors.
  • Need to expand economy beyond resource extraction to new technologies and sectors to achieve long-term sustainability. In particular, some attendees would like to see more investment in solar energy for domestic use.
  • Seems like leases give certain firms monopolies – for example, one firm has rights to all thermal coal west of Morland
  • Selective logging is good for the environment – minimizes wildfire risk, mountain pine beetle problems. If we could use this more extensively, forestry would have less impact.
  • Environment section of the plan refers to a ‘shift’ in forestry management – is there a shift happening?
  • Forestry has a negative impact on headwaters – should not be allowed in these areas (e.g. Trunk Road)
  • Potential for carbon offset investment – should encourage this through government programs
  • Concern about foreign company attempting to buy TransAlta – will the government approve this?
  • Alberta’s coal policies should stay consistent
  • Development that builds over aggregate mining resources limits growth of the mining industry – for this reason, aggregate sector needs more input in the plan
  • Plan needs recognition of the role of agriculture in the economy – especially in providing local food security, serving domestic markets
  • Not enough specifics on the future of reclamation in the region – especially for aggregate mines
  • Opportunity for bio-fuel production – right now, there’s some but not significant compared to traditional fuel production
  • Concept of developing ‘value-adds’ for oil and gas resources doesn’t seem to be catching on – do we need polcies to address that?
  • More attention should be paid to province’s power plants and their environmental footprints
  • Need to build more foreign demand – we could double GDP in 15-20 years by accessing a “secondary main market” like China

Photo of a coniferous forest in Alberta.

Thoughts about infrastructure: 

  • Right now, a lot of infrastructure burden rests with municipalities – tools are needed to help meet the infrastructure demands of industry
  • More transparency needed on the overall power grid and its expansion – need to keep the public informed
  • Infrastructure connectivity needs work – e.g. lack of bridges across rivers. Plan needs more specifics about what will be done on this issue.
  • Need more recognition that a new pipeline right-of-way will be required in the region. Pipeline corridors should be established rather than assigning random limits
  • Need to invest in effective rail system and consider this a tool for economic development

Thoughts about tourism:

  • A regional trail system would be a serious benefit to eco-tourism in the region – but who is taking the lead on this?
  • No real discussion about the long-term use public lands for tourism and recreation
  • Potential to develop tourism in the North Saskatchewan river valley
  • No mention of recreation in the tourism section – need to focus on opportunities for outdoor recreation for both tourists and local residents. But we also need to limit use of areas that are environmentally sensitive.

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Biodiversity management frameworks need to be finished at the same time as the plan – still not completely implemented for the Lower Athabasca and South Saskatchewan plans. “The plan should not be considered complete without the frameworks in place.”
  • All industries must be held to the same standards – but it should also be recognized that many industries meet and exceed these standards
  • Some attendees think the government is ‘siding with industry’ on certain environmental issues
  • More emphasis needed on cumulative effects management and planning
  • More attention needed to riparian management – recommendations from programs like Cows and Fish can help us with that
  • Agriculture could shift to become more environmentally sustainable – why not raise bison for protein? They’re more suited to this landscape.
  • Currently, the approach to ecosystem services is not integrated and has not been prioritized – this should change
  • Stricter standards needed for reclamation – if a company goes out of business, government and municipalities have to pick up the bill for reclaiming their sites
  • Only a very small portion of true reclamation has happened on public lands – we have to do better
  • Good that the plan recognizes biodiversity as an important goal – but will it follow through on protecting it?
  • Not enough in plan to address the ways that our climate will change over the next 50 years – will impact water quantity, quality, ecosystems
  • More communication & transparency is required from environmental monitoring
  • More details needed on how landowners will be compensated for stewardship
  • Alberta’s wetland policy lacks specific, measurable outcomes – the regional plans should dictate these outcomes
  • Bighorn Wilderness Area should be re-classified as a Wildland Provincial Park
  • 2000 program was supposed to identify gaps in protected areas across the province – has this been done? Are these being incorporated in the regional plans?
  • Should be a public consultation process for re-classifying existing parks and public should be informed when this re-classification takes place
  • It’s a good idea to expand existing protected areas – but we shouldn’t be limited to that. We should also be able to create new areas.

Thoughts about air and water: 

  • Air quality monitoring section does not consider monitoring carbon dioxide emissions
  • Need to manage nutrient leaching on commercial farms – river systems can become overloaded
  • Water for Life is a good strategy but there is no funding to implement it
  • Concern that oil and gas developments in Vermillion are using potable water
  • Need more education about the ways that flaring impacts air quality, as well as better technology to minimize this
  • Some attendees think more focus is needed on alternatives to flaring, while others question whether these are economical
  • Rather than referring to “water management”, the plan should refer to “human management of water”
  • Establishment of AEMERA must not lead to the loss of local, community based monitoring by WPACs and airshed groups – need to work together when plan is in place
  • Would like to see WPAC plans incorporated directly into water management plans – no need to re-invent the wheel
  • Baseline values are required to understand air and water monitoring trends in the region – where do we get this information?
  • Hydraulic fracturing will have an important impact on groundwater management – need to recognize this
  • Need better linkages between public health management and watershed/airshed management
  • Management sections focus too much on human needs – need to think about broader ecosystems
  • Bow River basin should be treated separately by the plan

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • The way we lived 40 years ago with simpler and easier on the environment – our values have changed. Is it possible for them to change again?
  • Aboriginal knowledge of the land is important – make sure we don’t lose this
  • Municipalities and communities must be given the tools to implement the plan responsibly
  • Most of the region is rural and communities need to get used to the mindset of the ‘country residential’

Thoughts about recreation:

  • There is no such thing as mixed use trail – mixed-use trails are dominated by motorized vehicles
  • Resources for access management and enforcement are desperately needed for off-highway vehicle use – this is “wreckreaction”
  • Off-highway vehicle use leads to conflict with hikers, campers, etc. How do we manage those conflicts?
  • Need dedicated regional bikeways connecting recreation destinations and municipalities
  • Leave as many areas open for casual recreation as possible – responsible random camping and off-highway vehicle use is possible
  • More coordination with stakeholders needed, particularly on the trail system development that is already happening
  • Increased bicycle use is leading to more bike-car conflicts on roads – how can we address this?
  • Need to emphasize low-impact, non-motorized recreation in this region – cycling, hiking, canoeing, etc – particularly since these activities support the Active Alberta Policy
  • Province should designate certain areas, parks etc. for certain uses
  • Recreation preferences are influenced by legislation – if we restrict off-highway vehicle use, people will turn to other activities
Photo of an off-highway vehicle on an eroded trail.

Some participants are concerned that ‘mixed-use’ trails are dominated by off-highway vehicle users.

 

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