BARRHEAD-The County of Barrhead will not throw its support behind an initiative to designate the North Saskatchewan River as part of the Canadian Heritage River System (CHRS).
Councillors voted 7-2 to deny a request from Smoky Lake County for a letter of support for their application to include the river as part of the CHRS, deciding to pass it for information instead. Councillors Walter Preugschas and Ron Kleinfeldt were opposed.
CHRS is a joint program founded in 1984 and administered by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. Its mandate is to conserve and protect the best examples of the nation’s river heritage, give them national recognition, and encourage the public to enjoy, and appreciate them.
Currently, there are 40 rivers in the CHRS.
Smoky Lake County asked for the county's support because a small portion of its lands falls within the North Saskatchewan River's watershed.
County manager Debbie Oyarzun noted they first received the request in January, but the administration decided to delay bringing the request to their attention until they had a chance to learn what, if any, consequences supporting the Smoky Lake County's application could have for the county.
As of April 13, Smoky Lake County had received more than 45 letters supporting the application, including several municipalities.
She also noted that Smoky Lake County is also looking for public input through an online survey accessible through its website.
Smoky Lake County expects to learn if its application was successful by the fall.
"A [Canadian Heritage River System] designation is truly ceremonial," Oyarzun said, adding it is non-statutory and therefore does not add any additional restrictions for development or use.
However, she said if the river added to the Canadian Heritage River System, communities along the river could benefit from increased visibility and added recreation and tourism opportunities.
Kleinfeldt asked if the Athabasca River was part of the CHRS.
Oyarzun said the 168-kilometre portion of the river in Jasper National Park was considered part of the CHRS.
Deputy reeve Marvin Schatz asked what advantage there would be to the County of Barrhead, noting the only reason why they were included is that some of the rivers and creeks drain into the North Saskatchewan basin.
"I think it is worthwhile supporting it," Preugschas said. "Through [GROWTH Alberta's WILD tourism brand] the County of Barrhead is working at getting the Klondike Trail designated as a historical site and to achieve that we are going to need similar support. Maybe not from Smoky Lake but other municipalities."
Coun. Darrell Troock was hesitant to lend the county's support "when they had the Athabasca River to deal with."
"And I'm always scared the more control you give the federal government because they don't seem to handle things well," he said.
Reeve Doug Drozd was also uncomfortable supporting the application.
"On one hand, it says the designation safeguards the environment and then does not change the rules for any future [development projects]. they are contradictory terms," he said. "What is to stop an opposition group for a proposed development on the North Saskatchewan River point to this association, and say 'this is a heritage river, you can't come anywhere close to it.'"
Preugschas argued that the designation has no statutory controls other than those that already exist.
"I just see it as a way to increase its profile which will help tourism," he said.