Getting all eight municipalities around Sylvan Lake to agree on how to balance environmental protection and development has not been easy.
Lake management plans have been updated several times over the years without reaching a consensus on the specifics of how best to regulate development.
However, Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre is optimistic that a provincially required intermunicipal development plan (IDP) already in the works will finish with communities on the same page when it comes to challenging issues such as how to handle future growth.
The new plan will set general direction for Red Deer and Lacombe Counties, Town of Sylvan Lake and the Summer Villages of Norglenwold, Birchcliff, Jarvis Bay, Half Moon Bay and Sunbreaker Cove.
Provincial rules would have allowed municipalities to develop individual plans within the IDP, but all eight communities chose not to go that route, said McIntyre.
“We agreed municipalities around the lake that it would be in the best interest of the environment and our residents that we work together on it.
“I think it’s inspiring to see all of the municipalities choosing to work together on a plan that addresses all of the area around Sylvan Lake,” he said.
“I’m confident that we can come out with something that both protects the environment and allows for responsible development.”
The first phase of the IDP process was just completed with the release on Wednesday of the What We Heard Report, which outlines public feedback gathered for the plan.
Protecting the environment and watershed was the most commonly shared aim, with 73 per cent of respondents giving it top priority.
Ensuring the environment is preserved will mean taking a co-ordinated approach to development, the report says.
Currently, there is no standard approach to identifying or protecting environmentally sensitive areas or managing stormwater, and development standards differ between municipalities.
“I think the key thing we heard from people who responded to our surveys and attended the public open house was a message of balanced development,” said McIntyre.
“We need to make sure we protect the watershed and protect the lake from invasive species, we need to maintain our tree cover and protect the aquifer.
“But people are also looking to develop the established municipalities around the lake with things like housing, lake access and trails.”
How tricky finding consensus may be can be found in the issue of lake access. Power boaters have long complained of long line-ups at the only two public boat launches on the lake.
“While there is a general consensus that at least one new boat launch is needed, there is not agreement on where a launch should go,” says a summary of the report.
The IDP will not deal with that sort of detail. When the time comes to develop another launch, municipalities will likely lean on a lake access study completed in 2016, which outlines half a dozen possible launch sites, said McIntyre.
The next phase of the project is to create a draft plan and policy framework.