Draft of South Saskatchewan regional plan released
Environment: Sheep River, Blue Rock provincial parks to be expanded
Wednesday, Oct 16, 2013 06:00 am
Albertans are getting their first glimpse of a new plan to guide growth and development in the southern portion of the province, but so far, reviews are mixed.
The Province released a draft of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which covers the South Saskatchewan River basin, which includes the MD of Foothills and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and is intended to guide growth, development and land use decisions in the area over the next 50 years. It also establishes economic and environmental priorities for the region and sets aside large areas for protection.
“This draft report supports growth while considering environmental and social impacts,” said Diana McQueen, Alberta Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD).
The area covered by the plan is home to 1.6 million people and includes five cities and 29 towns. It includes 65 per cent of Canada’s irrigated land, almost half of Alberta’s natural gas wells, 14 of the province’s 16 wind generation farms and it accounts for 34 per cent of Alberta’s annual tourism expenses.
The plan sets a strategic direction for the next 10 years and will be reviewed and updated every five years.
McQueen said the draft plan also ensures property rights are protected.
“Private landowners and freehold mineral owners will make decisions about how to use and manage their resources in a way that is consistent with existing provincial and municipal legislation, the draft plan does not change this or alter private property rights,” she said.
She added private landowners will be able to decide how to use their land in-line with provincial legislation.
It also provides guidance for land use decisions for landowners and municipalities.
“It really is about the opportunity for us to take a long-term look at land use planning,” she said.
The plan includes the creation of 11 new parks and protected areas and expands legal protection to 134,000 hectares of land.
The plan calls for the creation of new provincial parks and expands existing parks including the Blue Rock and Sheep River Provincial Parks west of Turner Valley. The Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park will grow by 453 hectares and Sheep River Provincial Park will be expanded by 266 hectares. Wildland parks are the highest form of protection under the Provincial Park Act.
The plan also calls for the creation of a new 33,050-hectare Pekisko Heritage Rangeland in the southwest corner of the MD of Foothills. As well, five provincial Parks along the Elbow River west of Bragg Creek will also be expanded by a total of 315 hectares.
Over time, the government is proposing as many as 1,000 new individual camping sites and 100 new group camping sites.
The plan has already generated criticism from some who say it doesn’t do enough to protect the environment and others who say it goes too far and will affect property rights.
Pat Stier, Livingstone-Macleod MLA, said the plan will have broad implications on property rights.
Stier, who is the Wildrose Party’s ESRD critic, said land that will fall under new conservation areas will face new restrictions on potential uses and the rights of property owners and leaseholders in the areas.
He said he is concerned landowners who will be directly be affected were not consulted by the Province.
“Those landowners caught within those conservation areas will be faced with changes in their land use application abilities for the future if they want to change what they’re doing there,” he said. “They didn’t necessarily ask for that, they’ve fallen into these broad brush strokes on a map.”
He said the good news is the Province won’t cancel any grazing leases or oil and gas leases with the plan, even in conservation areas.
However, he said the plan may prevent new opportunities to explore for oil and gas development in conservation areas.
Officials with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative say it doesn’t do enough to increase conservation, particularly in the Castle area near Crowsnest Pass.
“This plan promised to reduce land use conflict, but it doesn’t do that in any way,” said Wendy Francis, program director. “There is nothing new for conservation in this draft plan. The only thing the plan accomplishes from a conservation point of view is that areas previously protected by policy are now going to be protected by legislation.”
The Province is holding open houses at 21 locations across the region where people will be able to learn more on the plan and provide feedback. One will be held in Okotoks on Nov. 27 at the Foothills Centennial Centre from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Open houses will also be held in Calgary on Nov. 13 and Vulcan on Nov. 21 at the same time.
The draft plan is available on-line at www.landuse.alberta.ca.