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Securing Alberta’s Aggregates

The time is now to discuss sustainable development.


December 2, 2013
By Teri muhlbeier

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The province of Alberta saw its population reach over four million people for the first time this past year.

The province of Alberta saw its population reach over four million people for the first time this past year. Leading the way for population growth across Canada for the past 20 years at 2.1 per cent, Alberta is expected to hit five million by 2027, all at the lowest median age across Canada of 36.1.1 We are young, we are strong and we are growing.

While these figures are impressive, they also mean that as a province we are going to have to collectively ask and get answers to tough questions if we want to achieve sustainable growth. In a province where we are blessed with more natural resources than we know what to do with, it’s easy to forget about the importance of aggregate when you’re competing against oil and gas, forestry, mining and agriculture.

Everyone agrees that our highways and roads need to be maintained, and our hospitals, schools and communities need to built, yet it seems that more and more these days, no one agrees on where the material should come from, or how the rules should be applied to the industry. One of the biggest challenges for this industry continues to be securing reserves in an inconsistently applied and multi-layer approvals process between the province and the municipal levels.

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There is an increasing amount of public pressure on the municipal level approvals process and few municipalities have the resources or structures in place to make sound, socioeconomic and science-based decisions. There is little consistency in the public consultation requirements between counties and even less consistency in how to manage the concerns of the ratepayer brought forward during that process in a way that allows the applicant to successfully mitigate those concerns.

However, there is a window for change opening in Alberta to reduce some of these inconsistencies and challenges with the amalgamation of the private and public lands coming together under Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. This means that there is an opportunity to develop a one-window approach for streamlined permitting and a more efficient provincial regulatory framework that will benefit everyone. Change at the provincial level allows for further conversations to happen at the municipal level to reduce the vertical redundancies on municipal regulatory requirements and enforce consistency between counties on requirements related to development permits, haul routes, taxation and levies, and end land use plans that are currently on pace to cripple our industry and the end user.

At the same time, the industry needs to step up and show that we are continually evolving by doing our part to acquire a social licence to operate. We must get a handle on our transportation problems and we need to accept that our trucks are our responsibility at all times. We need to define best management practices for our operations and hold ourselves accountable to operating at those higher standards. Mostly importantly, we need to continue to champion the positive aspects of our industry, including the over $38 million paid in Community Aggregate Payment levies to Alberta communities since 2006, and showcase our progressive reclamation successes throughout the province.

The consequence of not shaping our industry’s future through raising our operating standards is that we leave it open to external forces shaping our industry for us. One thing is certain though: if we want to continue to grow as a province, we are going to have to come together to reach an understanding and definition of the sustainable development of the resource in Alberta or we will be left without any viable extractable aggregate sooner than we thought.

  1. Government of Alberta, http://alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=350618FCB7CB9-D315-C7B6-3A1E8521B366D28A, accessed Oct. 20, 2013

 

teri 
  

Teri Muhlbeier, Executive Director, Alberta Sand & Gravel Association