Provincial land use plans to be watershed-based

Oct. 1 may have come and gone with little attention from Albertans. But a piece of provincial legislation proclaimed into force that day could have a profound impact on future land use here.

Oct. 1 may have come and gone with little attention from Albertans. But a piece of provincial legislation proclaimed into force that day could have a profound impact on future land use here.

The Alberta Land Stewardship Act opened the door for implementation of the Land-use Framework, which was developed to manage growth in the province. It identifies seven regions that correspond with major Alberta watersheds, and calls for the creation of a land-use plan for each.

Morris Seiferling, the assistant deputy minister leading the implementation of the Land-use Framework, described the process during a presentation at the Synergy Alberta conference in Red Deer on Wednesday.

He said the framework was created to allow the province to take on a leadership role in development, and to better align policy, planning and decision-making across government departments, municipalities and boards.

Each plan will provide a single document that outlines government policy for that region, addressing issues like air, water and biodiversity.

“What they’re intended to do is integrate and align all those provincial polices at the regional level.”

The Red Deer Region encompasses Mountain View, Red Deer, Lacombe, Ponoka, Stettler, Paintearth, Kneehill and Starland counties, and extends east to the Saskatchewan boundary.

Regional advisory councils will spearhead the development of each plan. These will consist of representatives from the provincial and federal governments, urban and rural municipalities, First Nations groups, the public and other stakeholders like industry, environment and watershed groups.

“In addition to the regional advisory council, we also will have formal public stakeholder and aboriginal consultation in the development of all these plans,” said Seiferling.

A plan for the Lower Athabasca region is already being developed. It will contain details like maximum allowable bitumen production levels, the percentage of land to be set aside for conservation purposes, and thresholds with respect to air and water quality, and water consumption.

“These are not going to be guidelines,” stressed Seiferling. “These are going to be lines in the sand that government’s going to draw by law and that decision-makers will have to respect.”

He described the regional plans as “super regulations” that will override the regulations under any other provincial act.

Municipalities will still have the authority to make decisions concerning land within plan areas, as long as these don’t contravene the plans. For instance, said Seiferling, a municipality won’t be able to approve a subdivision within an area designated as conservation land.

The plans for the Lower Athabasca and South Saskatchewan regions are expected to be completed next year, with the North Saskatchewan and Upper Athabasca region plans slated for completion in 2011, and the Red Deer, Upper Peace and Lower Peace region plans to wrap up by 2012. Work on the Red Deer Region plan won’t begin until 2011.

Each plan will ultimately be approved by cabinet, at which time it will become provincial policy. After five years, a committee will be appointed to report on how each plan is working, with a formal review of each plan required every 10 years.

Additional information about the Alberta Land Stewardship Act and Land-use Framework can be found online at www.landuse.alberta.ca.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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