Information sessions are being set up to help people understand a new bill that is supposed to protect natural and historic areas within the province.
Bill 26, the Land Stewardship Act, is a first in Canada in that it offers compensation to landowners who are affected under conservation and stewardship programs, says Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
The proposed act becomes an umbrella for various other statutes governing land use, including the Water Act and Municipal Government Act, says Nancy Hackett, city planner for Parkland Community Planning Services.
Environmentalist Dorothy Dickson, a past president of the Red Deer River Naturalists, said the act has been a long time coming in that, at least on the surface, it offers a uniform set of laws to preserve natural areas and wildlife.
“Getting this is really good. We’ve wanted it for a long time,” she said.
“At present, we have a hodgepodge of jurisdictions with different aims, different plans, different regulations, many of which have no legal backing or they’re not enforced.”
Dickson said she remains somewhat skeptical about the how well the act will work, however, because she has yet to read all of its approximately 250 pages.
During public consultations held prior to creating Bill 36, nearly 75 per cent of respondents, including industry, business and environmentalists, agreed that the balance between development and conservation is focused too sharply on economic development and growth, said Dickson.
“But, redressing that balance is not listed as an aim of this legislation,” she said.
Hackett said she also found some solid points in the proposed act, although she still has some concerns.
“What is positive is that it is implementing the land-use framework,” which Hackett said lines up the various acts and sets up seven regions with a regional council for each.
“But I guess some aspects are a little bit concerning as well, in terms of I’d like more information.”
For one, she’d like more information on the reasoning behind the compensation program for landowners, how the amounts will be set and whether municipalities or the province will pay them.
Additionally, municipalities will need more information on some of the tools being suggested within the act, such as conservation offsets and credits for transfer of developments.
It’s unclear how the credits will work or who is going to track them, said Hackett.
Also of concern is that the Municipal Affairs minister would have new abilities to punish municipalities that fail to comply with the regional plan.
“The minister would have the power to cancel the council’s bylaw-making authority and withhold funding,” she said.
Open house meetings discussing Bill 36 start next week, with the first to take place in Grande Prairie on Wednesday.
Central Alberta meetings are set for May 14 at the Highwayman Motor Inn in Innisfail and May 19 at the Ponoka Legion.
All of the open houses operate from 4 to 8 p.m.
Please visit www.landuse.alberta.ca to read the bill and related information.