ATHABASCA — An application to expand an existing campground from 10 to 30 RV sites has been denied by Athabasca County council.
At their Sept. 14 regular meeting, interim manager of planning and development Christa Wilkinson informed council members of the request and read into the record the stack of letters of opposition to the project.
The application was to develop the northeast corner of a quarter section located six kilometres east of Boyle on Skeleton Lake, Wilkinson said, and would need to be rezoned from agricultural to commercial campground and first reading – a formality to allow a public hearing to be set – was approved Aug. 26 by council.
In her report Wilkinson noted the quarter section is mostly bush with a small creek and some wetlands in the northwest corner.
“There's also development approval for a mobile home and two garages near the existing work camp and a commercial storage yard in the northeast corner of the property,” she said.
The first letter Wilkinson read was from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) saying they had no concerns at this time, but may at the time of development if the amendment is approved.
“A wetland assessment might be needed to verify wetlands as there are wetlands on this quarter,” Wilkinson read from the AEP letter.
However, mayor April Clark, deputy mayor Matthew Tomuschat and Coun. Leah Iwaniuk of the Summer Village of Bondiss were clear they do not support the land use amendment, noting it is in a key biodiversity zone.
“Due to this land being a key wildlife and biodiversity zone we feel this amendment should not be passed. These zones are rated as high risk,” Clark said in a letter signed by all three officials. “The key wildlife and biodiversity diversity zone (is to) protect locally and regionally significant wildlife movement corridors; to protect the long-term integrity and productivity of the key ungulate winter ranges; to protect areas with rich habitat diversity and regionally significant habitat types and to protect key hiding and thermal cover for wildlife.”
Clark added as per the Alberta government's recommended land use guidelines for key wildlife and biodiversity zones, a primary strategy would be to protect vegetation from being cleared and forest growth is essential for providing food, thermal protection for ungulates, protecting the slopes, erosion, and other degradation.
"Should this land be rezoned for the area requested and a development permit be given there would be a large area of forest and marsh destroyed, which is opposite to the primary strategy to protect these areas,” she said.
Secondary to the environmental impacts, Clark said additional people in the area bring added use to the village impacting road maintenance, garbage, land use, parks, playgrounds, and boat launch.
“All of these amenities are maintained through Summer Village of Bondiss taxes based on our own use,” said Clark. “The increased land and water use, noise level due to off road vehicles, extra traffic and boat traffic will all have a negative impact on the Summer Village of Bondiss landowners and more importantly the fish, birds, and wildlife.”
The developer, Terry Norman, however, said in a letter the expansion is an enhancement to the region and will bring needed business to the surrounding restaurants, garages, hair salons and more and during the work phase will use local suppliers.
“With the location of the new lots being within a minute drive from the main highway, it poses no increase of traffic through Bondiss,” he said. "Developed land will be a benefit to the county in an increase of taxes as opposed to vacant.”
Tomuschat added his own personal letter to the dissent pile saying Skeleton Lake and surrounding areas are already overdeveloped and additional development will be devastating to the lake.
“Let's assume each property uses the launch and the roads once a day,” he said. “That's over 480 boats and vehicles per day that would go through our launch, down our roads and be on the lake. This is not including any visitors.”
He noted the added use does not include off-highway vehicles, which also increase noise and congestion.
A similar letter was personally submitted by Iwaniuk, four more letters from residents near the proposed site, two letters submitted by a couple and four form letters were all read in by Wilkinson.
“In 1979, a survey conducted for the (Athabasca County) by ... W. David Barber concluded that 75 per cent of cottagers perceive overuse conditions occurring at Skeleton Lake; of specific concern is the excessive boating. That was 42 years ago,” said the letters from Joanne and Bill Reid.
After the contentious debate Coun. Kevin Haines made the motion to move second reading of the amendment, but it was defeated by a vote of 6-2 meaning the application was denied.