Discussion over what to do with the province’s West Country Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ, or Bighorn Country)over the land has opponents requesting more time for consultation.
That’s one of the key takeaways Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon has voiced. Ponoka News reached out to Nixon seeking a response to comments Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) Minister Shannon Phillips made during a recent telephone town hall.
For Nixon’s part, the big point that’s being missed is the need for consultation.
He suggests that municipalities in the west country are concerned that the proposal excludes their concerns. While he agrees something needs to be done in the area, the speed in which it’s being proposed may be too fast.
The regional advisory council for the PLUZ, which is quite a big area, has been working on this for some years, but Nixon says municipalities want to be included. “Our communities want this process slowed down and we want to do this right.”
Another issue the MLA has heard is the question of the Provincial Parks Act legislation and how that would work in the PLUZ. One question is on the use of helicopters; Nixon says the Parks Act does not allow for helicopters use.
The AEP responded to questions from Ponoka News related to Nixon’s concerns. The province met with municipalities on Dec. 11. Councils with the Town of Rocky Mountain House, Clearwater County, the Village of Caroline and the Summer Village of Burnstick Lake spoke with the minister.
At Rocky Mountain House’s Jan. 15 meeting, council did discuss the proposal and voiced some need to look into what emergency services would look like if tourism increases, which is one goal of the proposal.
According to the AEP, if the PLUZ is approved, there would be no immediate changes, however, the province would establish a larger stakeholder process and that includes affected municipalities.
“In addition to leveraging the expertise and input of a steering committee (specific to the West Country PLUZ and planning areas within), the planning process would include another round of public consultation opportunities on specific priority projects and areas within the PLUZ itself.”
The province estimates the entire process will take five or more years to complete.
As for the Parks Act, the ministry states that the PLUZ is not governed by the Provincial Parks Act. The whole proposal is to better manage the area, states the email.
“In terms of the questions specific to the parks area of the proposal and impact on helicopter usage, there is a requirement for permits only for landing in a park. Our government is consulting on the proposal and is open to making changes to ensure businesses, including those involving helicopter flights, are well supported.”
Research into the Bighorn County shows that discussions have been ongoing for quite a few years. The current action is based on recommendations from a 116-page report by the North Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council.
Of note is the membership on this advisory council, which includes representation from the Clearwater County Reeve, EPCOR, ranchers and farmers in the area, as well as representation from First Nations represetnatives and planners.
One group advocating the need for the PLUZ is the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), which has voiced concerns about the area’s watershed. The AWA has also issued a myths fact sheet to dispel some of the rumours related to the area.
“The natural and pristine resources of this region are priceless. From secure clean water, to vibrant healthy forests and wildlife that has room to roam Bighorn Country is long overdue,” states Joanna Skrajny, AWA conservation specialist in the release. “The plan looks very much like the area proposed and shown on road maps in 1986.”