By Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Woodlands County Council heard about a Request For Proposal (RFP) from Alberta Forestry during their January 19 meeting. Economic Development Officer Bert Roach said the RFP in question came through in December of last year. “They are opening up some new areas for a Commercial Timber Permit, and we have had direct contact from the Alexander First Nation requesting a support letter in support of their bid,” he explained.
He said that the RFP wanted to see letters of support from any communities within the identified areas, which was why the letter from Alexander First Nation had come in. “We do want to encourage Council to extend that (support) to any company that would be fitting the criteria to apply. We would be supportive of their applications as well,” added Roach.
Councillor Alan Deane said that this subject had popped up during the Economic Development Committee meeting the day before. “If you look at the map, it’s my understanding that this is logging in the White Zone. I think, generally, when this comes up, municipalities are given lots of advanced notice so they can work with their stakeholders, including the residents, to make them aware and have public consultation sessions. The timeline behind this is very short. I would urge that we contact the successful applicant when that’s declared and make sure that type of public consultation for our residents is in place,” he said.
Councillor Devin Williams said he wished he could see more on the provided map. “I wish 658 was on that map so you could actually see where Goose Lake is and where Fort Assiniboine is. I can find Fort Assiniboine fairly easily because of 33 but not Goose Lake because of where it falls in there. There might be a lot of people around there (in the immediate area).”
To which Councillor Kuelken said, “there’s going to be a lot of people.” Councillor Williams continued to speak. “Ya. That whole highway, right? I don’t know if we can ask for an updated map of that just to see kind of where that does run through.” Councillor Kuelken wanted the same. “We are going to be asked, and this is going to have an impact, and there’s going to be some debate about this. If we could get a defined map and actually with areas that are going to be under that program, it sure would help us.”
Mr. Roach said he had attempted to contact those listed on the first page of the RFP but hadn’t heard back yet. “I will attempt to make contact again today, and I will request a more detailed map.” Councillor Deane apologized for taking the conversation off track from the support letter by getting into the public consultation and map topics. “The RFD is asking us to provide a letter of support, and I sense there is support for that.” A motion was made, and it passed unanimously.
With the support letter taken care of, Councillor Deane returned to the conversation. “I think the nature is that we would like our public engaged and we would like more information. So, are we asking our ED officer to come back to us with more information and then from that, we can develop public consultation?”
Mayor John Burrows cautioned called it a consultation process as that term implies asking for permission. He said this would be more about letting people know what’s happening and providing information. “This Council has talked a lot about trying to increase the communication between what’s going on in the municipality and what’s being communicated to residents. At least when they see a bunch of trucks moving around and things going on, they know what’s going on. People just don’t like surprises more than anything, especially these days.”
Councillor Deane said that he thought the last time the White Zone was logged was from the Hard Luck area of the County. “For me as a resident, who was affected because those logging trucks were coming down West Mountain Road, I was invited to the Whitecourt Ag Society. There was a thorough explanation of when the logging would take place and when the trucks would run. It satisfied concerns that I had.” He said that was the kind of thing he wanted to provide to residents.
Mr. Frank said they could only provide the information shared to them by the Alberta Government. “This is their initiative and their project. I know it affects our residents; however, we can only do the communication component to what they provide us with.” Mayor Burrows said that Woodlands County could develop a communication strategy for logging in the White Zone. “You’re basically taking information that you are given and distributing it to your residents. That’s the way the system’s working, and it’s about as close as we can get.”
Speaking to the map situation, Councillor Bruce Prestidge said it looked like the wood was in Millar Western’s area and said it might be easier to contact them for a more detailed map instead. “My understanding is that this is outside of the existing FMA’s, but there is probably more detailed mapping that we can get from the companies as well so, what I’ll do is a two-part strategy. I’ll follow up on the RFP on the contacts that are there, and secondly, if we can’t get that, I’ll approach the companies directly if that sounds alright,” said Mr. Roach.
“That’s more than acceptable. Thank you,” replied Councillor Deane before changing the topic to how the information process would go. He wondered if Council would have to lead it or if the successful applicant would. “I would like to see the winning applicant work with Woodlands on a public consultation process. If we try and do it ourselves and have no representation by that applicant, then there’s going to be questions residents have that we can’t answer.”
This item is reprinted with permission from Whitecourt Press, Whitecourt/Woodlands County, Alberta
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