Buffalo Lake residents steer BLIDP meeting off course

A public hearing of the councils of the municipalities involved in the Buffalo Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan was hijacked.

A public hearing of the councils of the municipalities involved in the Buffalo Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan was hijacked by lake residents unhappy with bylaw changes made by the County of Stettler earlier this year.

The meeting, which brought the councillors from the Summer Villages of Rochon Sands and White Sands, Camrose and Lacombe counties, and the County of Stettler together at the IOOF Hall in Erskine, was a public hearing to go over proposed changes to the Buffalo Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan (BLIDP).

The BLIDP was created in 1997, and saw the five communities come together to make a plan for the lake’s future. The goal was to preserve the lakeshore for public use while ensuring that green spaces along the shore were maintained.

The plan was developed with a 30-year sunset – essentially, the plan would no longer be good after 30 years – but councils were obligated to review it every two years to ensure the plan met current standards set down by law.

Anjah Howard of Camrose County explained the changes being proposed by the planners of the counties and summer villages. None of the changes were extreme, but were instead maintenance, she noted.

Several of the changes involved renumbering and realigning sections of the plan, updating definitions, and clarifying ambiguous areas of the plan.

One of the biggest changes involved changing the plan review from two years to four years.

“It currently takes 12-16 months for us to complete a review,” Howard explained. “We’re always reviewing this plan.”

Another change was the minimum amount of land between lots and the provincial right-of-way along the shoreline, which was set to six metres. The land will be zoned as environmental review.

Howard and Johan van der Bank, planner for the County of Stettler, explained that this change applies to new developments going forward, and is not being retroactively imposed upon existing developments.

Furthermore, the pair explained that the BLIDP sets out the minimum standards, and that each village and county can impose stricter bylaws if it so pleases – but cannot go below the standard set out in the BLIDP. For example, Camrose County requires a minimum of 30 metres from the provincial right of way to private lots, not six meters.

After going over the changes to the BLIDP with the councillors and roughly 30 lake residents and users in attendance, Stettler Reeve Wayne Nixon, who chaired the meeting, asked if there had been any written submissions.

There were two, Howard said. The first came from Alberta Transportation, and commented on needing clarification on the procedure for connecting to provincial roadways. The second came from a landowner on the lakeshore whose property was an oddity – zoned as agricultural land, even though the land is not farmable or can be grazed, and surrounded on all sides by Crown Land, the property is completely inaccessible by land. The owner asks for permission to keep his seasonal dock in the water rather than damage the shoreline by dragging the boat onto shore every time they leave the property.

After the written submissions were read, Nixon explained the procedures for verbal submissions, making it clear that the submissions should be about the BLIDP and not be a debate.

While some residents had questions that were in line with the BLIDP, including questions about how communities became part of the councils involved in the BLIDP, the majority of questions centered around changes made to the south shore of Buffalo Lake by the County of Stettler earlier this year through bylaw changes.

Residents voiced concerns about the possibility of a fence being put up to block access to the lake by residents and remained fixated on that possibility, with speakers at times sounding on the verge of tears.

Stettler County councillor James Nibourg stood to answer the fence comments.

“I accept the blame for the fence comment,” he said, his voice clearly carrying through the hall. He noted that he was the one who made the fence comment originally, when the county was discussing the potential use pathways to demarcate the private land from public land.

“Someone said they didn’t want people coming onto their property, and I said ‘Well maybe we can build a fence,'” Nibourg said. “I never said there would be a fence.”

The fence comment has taken on a life of its own, van der Bank said during an interview after the meeting.

While councillors cannot rule out a fence at this juncture, it is for the same reason it cannot rule in a fence at this time, either: the public meeting for residents in the affected areas have not been held yet. So while yes, a fence is a possibility, it’s also equally a possibility it will not come to a fence, van der Bank noted. It all depends on feedback from the residents.

Other residents wanted to know why the Old Bolin subdivision wasn’t represented at the long table of councillors, or part of the BLIDP, though it was clarified that as a community that’s part of the county of Stettler, the county represents the Old Bolin subdivision.

Other complaints from residents included not receiving personal notices about the meeting, though public notices were placed in newspapers in Stettler, Camrose, Lacombe and elsewhere.

Eventually, Nixon called the residents back to the subject at hand, the BLIDP, and after some questions about field bed issues, the meeting was adjourned.

Councillors and residents mingled for a while, enjoying donuts, coffee, and a chance to chat over issues that concerned them, before the night came to a close.