By J.W. Schnarr
Municipal District of Taber council recently took full advantage of an opportunity to discuss its concerns over the use and ownership of aggregate (gravel) located on public lands.
During their regular meeting on Aug. 11, council addressed a letter by Reeve Brian Brewin in response to a request from the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties for input, which would then be passed on to Alberta Environment and Parks as the ministry crafts a new directive governing the Alberta Aggregate (Sand and Gravel) Allocation Policy for Commercial Use on Public Lands.
A primary concern for the M.D. is a requirement for obtaining an “occupant consent” in order to begin the process of obtaining a Surface Mineral License. Currently, if a consent is not gained, the aggregate sources are unavailable to the municipality except through a substantial legal process, though the M.D. recognizes the interests of the province in some issues, such as fish and wildlife concerns.
Another issue is the process required for First Nations consultation, which is considered to be “not clearly defined, is time consuming, and is potentially very costly to municipalities.” The suggestion is that the government has people who would be able to look after both parties’ interest in a clearly defined process for those cases. It was noted a recent consultation between First Nations and the municipality spanned more than 18 months and cost the M.D. about $50,000.
“Municipal Districts and Counties are charged with managing crown right-of-ways alongside Alberta Transportation,” indicated Reeve Brian Brewin in an Aug. 11 letter to the provincial government. “Is it not time that the province assisted municipalities in obtaining access to land for the purpose of obtaining aggregate for the maintenance of public roads?”
The M.D. is opposed to directives or policy that could be seen as placing provincial infrastructure and transportation priorities above the needs of the local municipalities for gravel sources. Those sources should be prioritized for both municipal and provincial use, in the interest of public projects. This is not always the case, according to Brewin.
“We are aware of provincial gravel pits that are not accessible by municipal governments,” he indicated.
Brewin also indicated that municipal governments should also have priority access to aggregate sources on public land.
“Within the (M.D. of Taber) there are 2,400 kilometres of gravel roads that have been constructed on public rights-of-way,” Brewin indicated. “Gravel on public lands should be shared for public infrastructure use and shared by both levels of government, not sold to the highest bidder for profit.”
Jack Dunsmore, director of planning and infrastructure, said there is issues with the process that need to be addressed.
“Their process needs to be looked at, in my mind,” he said. “Right now, it seems like Alberta Transportation seems to have priority on just about everything they want. Their roads are owned by the Queen, just like we are. We manage ours, and they manage theirs, but it doesn’t seem to be much of a level playing field. I’m kind of thinking that the process Alberta Environment and Parks has right now needs to be looked at a little more favourably for local government.”
“Provincial and local government should be on the same playing field,” he added. “There’s an issue with the amount of work, time, and money you have to spend on your (SML). There’s got to be an easier way for another governmental entity to access government on public lands.”
“I think this is a good letter,” said Brewin. “It basically tells them we’ve been through the process, there are some flaws, and there are some areas to look at.”