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Small nuclear reactors fuel Woodlands County public hearing

Whitecourt West Coun. John Burrows says MDP needs to include references to small nuclear reactors
Goose Lake/Freeman River Coun. Peter Kuelken said during a Whitecourt March 27 public hearing that he did not fully understand MDP, area-structure plan and land-use bylaw influenced each other and would welcome an additional workshop with administration.

WOODLANDS COUNTY - Discussion about small nuclear reactors was again prominent during a Woodlands County March 27 Whitecourt public hearing on the municipality's proposed municipal development plan (MDP) bylaw.

Councillors gave first reading of the bylaw during the Jan. 31 meeting in Whitecourt.

A MDP is a high-level land-use and community-planning document providing broad direction for councils in guiding future development.

The public hearing was the third, the first two being on Feb. 27 in Fort Assiniboine and Feb. 28 at the county's municipal office in Whitecourt.

One person from the public was in attendance and did not speak.

Community and planning services manager Joan Slootweg said that in addition to comments made by public members at the previous public hearings, the municipality received written comments from Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Town of Whitecourt.

She added Ducks Unlimited's comments on the importance of managing and protecting wetlands and water bodies, especially from agricultural activity. The Town of Whitecourt clarified the language regarding the definition of industrial lands and differentiated them from airport lands.

Whitecourt West Coun. John Burrows noticed that the draft MDP still needed to reference small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). He asked the administration where the topic would be included in future drafts of the MDP,  adding he understood that it was to be included following the council's Jan. 31 discussion.

Burrows said that SMRs were a big topic of conversation at the recent Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) conference.

Joan Slootweg replied that the MDP is a high-level document and is not meant to go into that specific detail, saying SMRs would be encompassed in the section of the MDP referring to alternative energy.

Red Willow consultant Vicki Dodge agreed, saying the county would be better off including SMRs in other documents, such as its economic development strategy document.

"[It is] a more specific plan flowing from the municipal development plan, which keeps things more generalized," she said.

Goose Lake/Freeman River Coun. Peter Kuelken agreed with Burrows, noting a section in the MDP that refers to alternative energy and suggesting SMRs could be mentioned with other alternative energy production as a potential land use.

Dodge said specific land uses are the purview of the land-use bylaw.

"A municipal development plan gives you general policies to guide the overall look and feel of your community," she said. "If you wanted to designate an area in the county as possibly suitable, there is another level of statutory planning called an area-structure plan that the county could use to assess the land, water, air, and social impacts of this kind of development more comprehensively."

Dodge also said the municipality could then redistrict areas into the appropriate zones, using industrial activity as an example; adding as part of the process, council might also have to amend its land-use bylaw.

Burrows replied he still did not understand the reluctance to include the term SMR in the development plan.

"When power companies look at municipalities that are friendly to this, they are literally grabbing the land-use bylaws and the municipal development plans, hitting CONTROL-F, and type nuclear," he said. If they don't find it, they move on."

He said power companies do not look for specific areas for potential energy projects, adding they make their decisions based on proximity to the power grid.

Blue Ridge Coun. Bruce Prestidge agreed with Burrows, reiterating Kuelken's suggestion that in the MDP, SMRS could be listed as examples of alternative energies with hydrogen, wind and solar.

Reeve Dave Kusch interjected, saying that by listing the specific types of alternative energies in the MDP, the concern was that the council was potentially dating the document, if and when technology changes.

Fort Assiniboine/Timeu Coun. Devin Williams agreed with Kusch; he was not so concerned about adding future technologies to the document but missing current ones.

Prestidge said whether a certain technology was specifically included in an area-structure plan, land-use bylaw, or MDP, there was always the risk of it becoming outdated, adding he wasn't sure what the difference was.

Dodge replied that the difference was in the level of specificity, reiterating that the MDP was a high-level "30,000-foot" document, while the area-structure plan and LUBs were much more detailed.

She said, "The land-use bylaw is more of a regulatory document stating the rules of the land."

Burrows said he still did not understand why they could not include SMRs in the MDP, suggesting council should have a workshop with administration to help councillors better understand the purpose of an MDP.

Kusch said he did not believe it was necessary, noting that they had multiple open houses, along with multiple other council discussions, and had the opportunity to pose their own questions directly to the administration.

Kuelken agreed with Burrows, noting he needed help understanding how the MDP, area-structure plan and land-use bylaw influenced each other.

Williams and Whitecourt Central Coun. Alan Deane agreed with Kusch.

CAO Gordon Frank noted after the public hearing closed that the administration would fine-tune the MDP draft document incorporating suggestions from the public, the Town of Whitecourt, and council and bring it back for council's consideration and potential second and third readings.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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