Athabasca's Tourism and Economic Development (TED) Committee is not happy about Athabasca County introducing a moratorium on new or expanded recreational vehicle (RV) parks.
TED Committee members requested at their June 20 meeting to have their Athabasca County representatives, Deputy Reeve Warren Griffin and Coun. Penny Stewart, relay concerns about the lack of consultation on the moratorium back to county council. The concerns arise after county council voted during its June 12 meeting to introduce a moratorium on applications for new RV parks and RV park expansions within Athabasca County.
Boyle mayor and TED committee member Colin Derko said he was a bit insulted about the county not consulting the committee before making this decision.
"We probably should have had some input," Derko said during the meeting. "I put my reputation and my council's reputation on the line based on the fact that we're here trying to drive tourism and economic development and all of a sudden one of our tools has been taken away from us."
Stewart said she does not disagree with the concern but noted it was not a decision county council made lightly. She explained the county made its decision due to the difficulties with handling the negative effects of all the the RVs that come to Athabasca County in the summer.
"This has been very contentious within the county and it wasn't an easy decision. But we have some issues in some areas of the county that are out of control," Steward said during the TED meeting. "Wandering River, who has probably a population of about 800, goes to 3200 in the summer. You want to talk about density and impact on those residents. They stay here, they don't pay taxes, they don't really contribute, they beat up our infrastructure."
Stewart added the county does not have the sewage facilities, dust control and bylaw enforcement in place to handle all of the extra population. The measure is temporary until the county can review and change its land use bylaw to address the issues, Stewart said.
However, TED committee member at large Garry Szmyrko said there is an economic benefit to people visiting Athabasca County in RVs.
"What people don't understand, if you don't have that level of tourism you'll never have future economic growth," Szmyrko said, adding the people who visit Athabasca County in the summer do contribute to the local economy. "Those people come with maybe a cooler of food, but they're buying gas, they're buying services, most of them even buy their groceries."
Stewart said Szmyrko's points were valid but the county wants to ensure it has the measures in place to deal with the added population.
"We're not wanting to stop this long-term, but we need to sit back and say what do we need to implement for bylaws," Stewart said. "We want to move forward with this but I think we need to deal with our infrastructure issues."
Derko said the moratorium is in conflict with the TED committee's goals.
"We're trying to drive tourism, economic development and the county is in effect stopping it. They should know this group isn't happy with that decision. Doesn't mean we don't understand it," Derko said during the meeting.
The TED committee made no official motion on the discussion but agreed to have Griffin and Stewart relay concerns to county council.
Moratorium contentious at county council
The moratorium on recreational vehicles came after two votes at the county council meeting June 12. A motion by Coun. Dwayne Rawson to accept a report on RV parks as information and not pursue a moratorium on the development of RV parks was narrowly defeated by a 5-4 vote.
A subsequent motion by Stewart to accept the report as information and implement a moratorium on recreational vehicle parks passed by a 7-2 vote.
Athabasca County communications co-ordinator Karl Kopan said the moratorium only applies to proposals for new or expanded RV parks, but does not affect already established RV parks operating or businesses established for storing RVs.
Coun. Kevin Haines said during the June 12 council meeting he does not expect this moratorium to affect industry or businesses.
"I don't see it connected to business, I don't see it connected to industry and I agree I want to see it done right," Haines said. "I want minimal intrusion to the rest of our taxpayers."
The motion to introduce the moratorium went against administrative recommendation, which suggested council not pursue a moratorium on recreational vehicle parks. Administration also recommended a direction to bring back information on an economic impact analysis on recreational vehicle parks.
In a report in the June 12 county council agenda, director of planning and development Shirley Moerman said there are a number of challenges with RV parks , such as sewage capacity, but the county has not gauged the economic benefit of them.
"We have not explored the cost benefit of this industry. It would be an important factor, finding out economic benefit and also the cost associated so that as a government we can implement strategies to minimize impact," Moerman said in the report.
This is not the first time Athabasca County has introduced a moratorium on RV areas. The county previously had a moratorium in place on applications for new RV campgrounds and RV campground expansion put in place Nov. 21, 2015, to be lifted after a new land use bylaw and municipal development plan were approved. However, the county voted to lift that moratorium March 16, 2017, after the approval of the land use bylaw was delayed.
The county is hosting a series of workshops on its land use bylaw from July 13-15.