Residents question county’s Chain Lakes plan

As Ponoka County works on management of Chain Lakes, residents have challenged planners on their research and intentions.

As Ponoka County works on management of Chain Lakes, residents have challenged planners on their research and intentions. A second public hearing was held Aug. 28 to discuss the proposed bylaw.

Councillors saw a room full of residents from the Chain Lakes area, including representatives of the Friends of the Chain Lakes Society. The group brought in a draft study by the Alberta Lake Management Society that looked at the area in 2011.

Friends society president Bernice Edwards is concerned over the current state of the lakes area. “The lakes need rehabilitation as well as management.”

She asked the county to study their submission before making any decisions on the management plan, which would allow land to be subdivided into a minimum of 10-acre parcels. It must also be managed to protect and rebuild the native tree cover.

Ron Harris feels the 10-acres is a reasonable amount of land for an owner.

“We have trees on all the land, which are a good straining mechanism,” said Harris.

Another resident, Mike Clarke, said more residents would also bring more interested parties to the discussion. “I’m only here because I bought land that was subdivided.”

He believes owners could be responsible for their land.

Some residents pointed out water quality is already going down and they are concerned 10-acre lots also mean more roads, people and septic tanks.

Edith Williams also suggested more residents would deplete the water. “We’d really like to see a hydrogeological survey done before adopting this plan.”

Joanne McMillan did not feel the county had considered some of the details of their document.

“What about the definition of a path? What about a winding path and the definition of a slope?” McMillan  asked. “The 42 or 43 quarters of land being rezoned to the proposed Chain Lakes Special Area will amount to possibly 630 acreages, while the conditions of the lake and certainly the effectiveness of the municipal development plan to provide protection to the banks and lake, we respectfully suggest that acreage size be enlarged.”

She was concerned over the amount of sewage generated by that many subdivisions.

Planner Bob Riddett, who drafted the original plan, said there was only one person at the first public hearing who was against 10-acre lots, and it was on those suggestions that the plan was changed. Originally 25 acres was the allowance for subdivision.

The plan is meant to allow for more tree cover near the shoreline.

“Tree-covered land gives you the least amount of runoff,” he said. “If you can keep trees on land or replant land which has been cleared into trees, you’ll reduce the amount of nutrients going into the lake.”

He recommends making the tree-covered land more valuable for landowners than cleared land, and referred to practices in Wetaskiwin County near Battle Lake; once tree-covered land was subdivided, landowners were allowed to clear only 10 per cent of the tree cover.

“So that’s been going on for almost 40 years now and the result has just been excellent,” explained Riddett. “There is very little tree clearance in that area.”

He feels it is an example of an incentive that will bring better results.

“So when we proposed the Chain Lakes Special Area the idea was, ‘Let’s give people who have tree-covered land an incentive to keep the trees by allowing them to subdivide,’” he said.

CAO Charlie Cutforth said the county’s concern was over livestock operations and lake use, which is why the plan was originally drafted. “To put those two uses side by side we have an incompatibility issue.”

Another challenge the county faces is with the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) and Alberta Environment as they are the organizations who have jurisdiction and control of the lakes area.

“Good, bad or indifferent, we have zero authority in that lake, it’s Crown land…We don’t have jurisdiction over the lake. What we do know is there has been a lot of tree cover removed,” he explained.

Cutforth also mentioned the lakes area in Lacombe County has different management policies. “They have 16 CFOs (confined feeding operation) within the watershed.”

The amendment to the plan has requested the NRCB not allow CFOs in the Chain Lakes area.

Edwards said the Friends of Chain Lakes’ intention is to consult with Lacombe County their findings and thoughts on the area.

“If you’re going to approach Lacombe, maybe you should involve your MLA,” Coun. George Verheire suggested.

He feels MLA Rod Fox would be able to assist them in their dealings with Alberta Environment and NRCB.

Coun. Paul McLauchlin said the plan is a positive beginning. “For the status quo it’s not a good fix, it’s a good start.”

He added the intent is not to create more acreages in the area, but a means to manage it.

Riddett suggested council table the bylaw until a hydrogeological study could be conducted and the county bring the plan to the lake management society. He did feel they had gained some ground with the plan by having the NRCB willing to work with it.

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