Reeve Lisa Rosvold described a land swap agreement 20 years in the making that was finalized last week as a “win-win-win” for the MD of Bighorn, the province and Bow Valley wildlife.
“I’m just so glad we can finally say this is completed. The endurance of our past council and administrators has paid off and I’m glad to see that this is now done,” she said.
“It means a lot to the MD to know that this important area for wildlife is protected and also to gain the land that we did in the swap.”
In the exchange, the province received 8.9 hectares of vital wildlife habitat split between a section north of the G8 Legacy wildlife underpass on the Trans-Canada Highway near Dead Man’s Flats and land north of the hamlet adjacent to the Bow River. The MD received 26.7 hectares, split into three parcels ideal for industrial and commercial development east of Exshaw. No money changed hands in the swap.
Land exchange discussions began in 2003 when the province flagged the area north of the underpass as high value environmental land due to its proximity to the underpass and wildlife corridor. Negotiations lasted nearly two decades between the MD and province to determine what lands should be included and what conditions needed to be listed in the agreement.
In 2019, a land exchange agreement was finally approved, but several time extensions were issued after signing due to delays caused by surveying, subdivision, creation of titles and environmental site assessments.
The agreement was finalized Monday (June 26) and the lands were officially transferred.
MD of Bighorn CAO Shaina Tutt said it took longer to complete all necessary reviews partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of the delays can be attributed to COVID-19 and just some services were harder to come by with respect to getting land surveys done to determine RPRs (real property reports). Part of it is also getting all the necessary paperwork done for surveys for environmental reviews,” she said.
A change in government also played a role in finalizing the exchange.
“Changes in government, changes ministers and that delays processes. So those are the key contributing factors between 2019 and 2023 in getting the paperwork side of it completed as agreed in the land swap,” Tutt said.
The MD has long been planning to build a new operations shop as well as a fire hall and administration building on one of the parcels of land it received in the swap, the Two Feathers Industrial Area in Exshaw. The municipality’s 2020-25 corporate plan had the operations building being replaced in 2022 for $6.2 million.
Rosvold said the new shop is desperately needed. The current building is actually a Quonset, which was moved to the hamlet from the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
“It has been overflowing for – I hate to say it – but I think decades,” she said. “We’ve known for a number of years that we would be getting one of these parcels of land from the land swap, so we’ve been reluctant to move forward and build a new shop somewhere else because that land is the most ideal location for it.”
“That’s been part of the frustrating bit of this exchange is we’ve kind of been held back from building this infrastructure, waiting for this exchange to go forward so that we did have the land to put it on.”
Tutt said the MD was able to obtain permission to access the land prior to finalization of the land title documents to complete some preliminary surveying, such as well and building placements. Design work on the operations shop is also complete.
The building will house the MD’s engineering and infrastructure department, with storage for materials, bobcats, skid steers, utility trucks and office space for staff members.
In its 2023-25 budget, council approved the construction of a new administration building pegged at $4.5 million in 2025. Tutt, however, said there are no other immediate plans aside from the operations building confirmed for the newly acquired lands.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 12, 2023