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LETTER: Concerns of residents being ignored

"This series of events calls into question whether resource extraction in the Sturgeon River watershed is in the public interest."
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In response to Kevin Ma's March 10 article, “County sand and gravel rules overhauled”:

In Alberta, from 1970 to 1994, the Environment Conservation Authority was responsible for conducting continual reviews of provincial government agencies’ policies and programs on matters pertaining to environmental conservation. Reports published by the Environment Conservation Authority in December 1971 described the “fairly obvious” significant negative impacts of strip mining, where “the most frequently expressed concern centered around water quality and quantity”. Concerns also related to reducing waterway flow rates, disrupting groundwater flow patterns, endangering wildlife habitat, and lowering of aesthetic values were reported (Environment Conservation Authority, 1971).

On Feb. 8, 2000, the Sturgeon County Subdivision and Development Appeal Board stated the following in their decision regarding strip mining: “The Board believes that mining operations within a half mile of multi-lot subdivisions and 1 mile from the Hamlet of Calahoo would negatively impact the quiet, peaceful residential character of the area… The Board believes this to be an incompatible use within the community that would negatively interfere with the amenities of the neighborhood as well as materially interfere with or affect the use, enjoyment or value of neighboring parcels and on the lack of information on the possible impact of sand and gravel operations on the groundwater.” (Sturgeon County, 2000). The board considered that of one hundred and twenty-eight (128) notices sent out, sixty-nine (69) letters of objection were received. Considering that over 50 per cent of notices were returned against this development, “the Board (was of) the opinion that the neighbours are not supportive of the application.” In this case, the Subdivision Development Appeal Board ultimately denied a permit for a gravel mining operation.

In April 2000, several residents proposed a bylaw amendment, which would have prohibited resource extraction within the Villeneuve Overlay Area (Sturgeon County, 2000). This amendment was not adopted. Instead, Sturgeon County Council placed a temporary moratorium on all development permits for resource extraction within the Villeneuve Overlay Area, and proposed an Area Structure Plan, which would guide future development in the region. Over 20 years later, concerns that were brought forward by residents are still being ignored.

This series of events calls into question whether resource extraction in the Sturgeon River watershed is in the public interest. Common good is a concept that has often been misappropriated in land use planning and development decisions. Which outcome is most reflective of the common good in the 21st century – the exploitation of resources for short-term gain or the preservation of ecosystem values and functions for generations to come?

As stated in Section 60 of the Municipal Government Act (2000), municipalities are responsible for “the direction, control, and management of bodies of water and the powers, duties, and functions of this and any other enactment.” If a municipal bylaw involves waterbodies but doesn’t include Section 60 of the Municipal Government Act, then the bylaw is inconsistent with existing provincial and federal acts such as the Public Lands Act (2000).

We must ensure that bylaws are consistent with provincial and federal laws and avoid committing resources that are irreplaceable and nonrenewable.

Ian Skinner
Resident of Sturgeon County