Despite a small storm of anger and disagreement about the affect the one-word change would mean, Ponoka County council has approved an amendment to one section of its land use bylaw.
Second and third reading of the amendment was approved at council’s Feb. 12 meeting with a pair of councillors absent from the vote — Coun. Bryce Liddle recused himself and Coun. Doug Weir was away.
The amendment saw the word ‘may’ replaced with ‘shall’ in a section concerning excavations.
“In addition to the standard information required by section 304 of the By-law, an application for a development permit for surface mining shall be accompanied by the following…” reads section 609.2 of the county’s land use bylaw.
Early in the meeting, a public hearing was held on the issue with about a dozen people sitting in to go along with two written submissions.
Scott McKelvie, who lives near a proposed gravel pit on McKelvie Road which is currently the subject of a court challenge by opponents, spoke against it. He presented council with a 74-name petition opposing the change.
“To change the bylaw from mandatory to discretionary implies that Ponoka County is wanting the option not to be accountable to its residents and to forfeit their development authority,” he stated.
“This undermining of the fundamental steps of building a quality and well-planned development permit can result in a catastrophic failure.”
He added that the county’s role is to ensure developments are compatible with uses in the area and that no one else is going to do this for them. He focused on the lack of public hearings and engagement by the provincial agencies, such as Alberta Environment, as an example of why the county needs to maintain those requirements as being mandatory when applying to the county.
“Our say is with you, as council members. You are our voice, you have the right to say yes or no,” he added,
In approving the change later in the meeting, Reeve Paul McLauchlin noted that most of what was expressed during the public hearing related to a specific project. He did wonder what public input or project conditions the county may be able to put in place at the development permit stage.
CAO Charlie Cutforth explained the amendment doesn’t change what council can do.
“The county still has the ability to request whatever council wants. This simply says in a situation where higher authorities — such as Alberta Environment or Transportation — have jurisdiction, that we don’t have to duplicate it,” he stated.
The issue is complicated by the fact the proposed new gravel pit, and court action, that triggered the amendment.
“Doing this is advantageous according to our lawyer,” Cutforth said, “this has served us well until this came up and we don’t want to over-react to one situation.”
One other suggestion Cutforth made to council is that when the work on the various collaboration agreements is complete, that the county undertake a full review and rewrite of its land use bylaw in order to update and deal with issues that have come to light recently.