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Parks to launch public consultations about land use planning and development

Richard Ireland, pictured here during the state of the municipality address in May, recently met with Parks Canada officials in Ottawa to discuss land use planning and development.  P. Clarke photo.

Richard Ireland, pictured here during the state of the municipality address in May, recently met with Parks Canada officials in Ottawa to discuss land use planning and development. P. Clarke photo.

Calls to have greater autonomy over land use planning and development may finally be getting heard in Ottawa.

In the fall Parks Canada intends to begin public consultations with the community about the issue, however it’s not clear whether Parks wants to give the municipality control over land use planning and development or simply streamline its regulations.

“We’ve got their attention, but where it will go I’m not sure,” said Mayor Richard Ireland, who recently met with Parks Canada officials in Ottawa during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference and trade show.

“They didn’t tip their hand on exactly what the outcome might be, whether they’re driving to transfer jurisdictional authority or changing processes to make it more user friendly.”

In either case, the mayor said it was a promising first step.

“For the first time since we signed the agreement to establish local government we’ve got them back in a meaningful way on this topic,” said Ireland, who was accompanied to the meeting with CAO Mark Fercho.

“It’s a relief to think that we’re having the discussions, but we’re not there yet, there’s still work to be done, so I don’t want to get overly optimistic or too excited.”

The issue has been a sore point for the community since Jasper became a specialized municipality in 2001 because unlike most municipalities, Parks Canada has control over land use planning and development.

In 2015 Parks Canada and the municipality undertook a joint a study to review and update land use planning and development processes in Jasper, however only a portion of the report related to streamlining business licenses was released to the public. The rest of the report is still being discussed between the two parties, however according to Parks the proposed changes are aimed at improving how construction projects are managed, including the permitting process.

Parks Canada said no dates for the public consultations have been set, but they could begin in late 2017.

“Members of the public and key stakeholders will have the opportunity to participate in the consultation process, whether in person through meetings in park communities, or electronically through a dedicated consultation website,” wrote Steve Young, a communications officer with Parks Canada.

During the meeting in Ottawa the mayor said he brought up the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana next year as an example where having local autonomy over zoning bylaws would be beneficial.

Several councillors, including Brian Nesbitt, Gilbert Wall and Dwain Wacko were also in attendance for the four-day conference.

During the conference Fercho and the mayor also met their counterparts from Banff to discuss affordable housing and their joint effort to be recognized by the province as tourism-based communities.

In 2016 Jasper, Banff and Canmore commissioned a detailed study about the challenges of servicing visitor volumes that far exceed resident population.

The report found that the communities make up less than one per cent of Alberta’s population, but play host to 13 per cent of the province’s visitors, attracting more than four million tourists annually.

As a result each community faces the unsustainable task of providing services that it can’t adequately collect taxes to pay for.

The hope is that if the communities are given special status, the province will provide the municipalities with additional revenue tools to put more money back into their coffers.

According to the mayor, the discussion focused primarily on how to make it a priority for the province.

“It’s been a difficult row. The province has lots of balls in the air right now and ours is maybe not one that they have taken to heart yet, so we have to keep working on getting the issue to the top of their agenda.”

During the conference the mayor also had a chance to sit down with Yellowhead County Mayor Gerald Soroka to discuss the state of affairs in the region, including the ongoing mountain pine beetle epidemic.

“We talked about our general concern,” said Ireland. “Here in Jasper we’re concerned about the threat of wildfire to the community, he’s worried about the marketable timber. It’s a different issue but it comes from the same cause.”

In 2016 Parks Canada released its mountain pine beetle management plan for JNP which includes several strategies to slow the eastward spread of the beetle, including using prescribed burns, cutting down trees and using harvesting equipment to eliminate larger patches of infected forest.

On May 30, Parks Canada successfully completed a prescribed burn near Fiddle Creek as part of a series of planned fires in the Athabasca Valley near the Park’s eastern boundary. The prescribed fires are part of the management plan to slow the spread of the mountain pine beetle and to create a fireguard to prevent wildfire from spreading beyond the park.

The mayor said he also got a chance to meet MP Jim Eglinski to discuss a range of issues from the mountain pine beetle to the possibility of setting up a meeting with Catherine McKenna, the minister of the environment and climate change.

Paul Clarke

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