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Alberta Transportation hopes rest stop protesters move on

Lacombe County councillor questions how long "squatters" can stay

Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors is hoping the ongoing anti-carbon tax protest at a provincial rest stop near Lacombe runs out of gas.

Mike Damberger, the department's regional manager for the area, was at Lacombe County council on Thursday to provide an update on road plans for the area when the future of the rest stop came up.

Damberger said the province still hopes to see some commercial development at the rest stop. The government looked for interested investors last year but found no qualified bidders, although there has been strong interest in the prospect of developing the 18 planned rest stops commercially. The province has not given up. It expects to re-tender the project in smaller pieces in hopes of attracting interest. 

In the shorter term, Alberta Transportation wants to replace the temporary washrooms with better permanent facilities.

"We're certainly open to commercial development on some scale and we're certainly open to some ideas around partnerships or municipal support. We're sort of at a turning point in the road."

County Coun. Dwayne West asked Damberger what effect the ongoing protest will have on trying to upgrade the rest stop and pitch it to potential commercial investors.

"How challenging are your endeavours that you've just described when you've got squatters there? What can we do federally, provincially and municipally to deter this?" West asked.

"I mean these guys are now two months there. How is that going to help you guys and your efforts to sell the place?"

Damberger said, "I'd like to think that's a very temporary situation, granted it's been dragging on for months. Hopefully, after this summer, that's a non-issue.

"We're fielding many, many complaints on that particular site," he said. "We do get complaints, and I'm sure you guys do too, that people don't feel welcome.

Alberta Transportation is trying to balance the right to peacefully protest with public safety.

"So, it's just a tough balance. Hopefully, it peters out."

Anti-carbon tax protesters set up at the rest stop about two months and show no signs of leaving. About a dozen trailers and RVs were parked there on Thursday and semi-permanent shelters have been built. Last month, they advertised a three-day event featuring live music, food and free camping and RV parking.

Alberta Transportation has given the protesters permission to park in a vacant area behind the rest stop.

"I find it interesting they are allowed to camp on Crown land whereas if I or you want to go camp on Crown land you have to pay a $90 fee and you're not allowed to stay in any position for more than 14 days," said West in an interview.

West said county council, administration and county community peace officers have had many discussions about the ongoing protest and how the right to peaceful protest is involved.

"I understand that and they were trying to work with them as best the can. And I get that too.

"But at some point two weeks becomes four weeks becomes eight, becomes 12 weeks. I think it's probably having an effect on public safety because they're taking up space for people to go (who want) to rest their weary eyes from travelling."

West said he has asked both Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors officials and RCMP at what point will the protest be considered to have gone on long enough.

"At what point do you go into another gear and they wouldn't want to elaborate on that, not to us anyway.

"I just feel personally, and I've had some people who agreed with what I thought, that at some point, this has to change."

Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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