MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - Council has received the latest results of the McDougal Flats Community Engagement process being undertaken to gauge public opinion around a proposed solar project and public amenity west of Sundre.
“The most recent engagement that we undertook continued to try and narrow the scope of what we had heard from the community, what we had heard from council when we brought the results back from the community, and the preference still continued to be passive recreational opportunities for the area,” Chris Atchison, director of legislative services, told council on Sept. 28.
“Primarily what we are hearing is some kind of pathway system around the solar project.”
Sun Alta Power is proposing the creation of a solar energy farm on the former county-owned McDougal gravel pit site.
The county held in-person engagement on June 28 at the McDougal Flats Hall followed to two online surveys to gather public input on the overall plan for the future use of the former gravel pit, and specifically the potential creation of a community amenity on a portion of the 80 acre parcel.
The recent survey identified a number of things respondents would potentially like to see at the site, including a community indoor riding arena, a lake for canoeing, outdoor riding arena, bike trails, quiet areas, a park, a greenhouse, bird sanctuary, and a staging area for horse tours.
“Administration has had multiple conversations with Sun Alta Power and they have agreed that a passive trail system is possible in conjunction with the solar project,” he said.
“If council chooses to proceed in this manner, administration will work with Sun Alta to develop a site plan that would show the integration of the two projects.
“It is administration’s position that a trail system and accompanying parking area would require approximately five acres of land, which would permit for a two kilometre trail.”
Sun Alta has also raised a possible alternative option, he said.
“If the county was in agreement to allow Sun Alta to lease the entirety of the previous McDougal gravel pit site, Sun Alta would consider providing additional funding to the county to reallocate the community amenity funding to a different property that may be able to provide greater benefit to the community,” he said.
“Administration considered that this could be used for the development of community amenity at a different location or to provide funds to upgrade an existing amenity such as the McDougal Community Hall.”
During the Sept. 28 council meeting, council members discussed the matter at some length.
Coun. Gord Krebs said, “I like the idea of pursuing the option of having funding to fix the hall or do another project because nobody is really cranked up about doing a trail system. I think if we are going to go back to the community we probably need to have some sort of dollar value. It would be nice to hear what (Sun Alta) would be willing to pay.”
Coun. Peggy Johnson said, “I concur with councillor Krebs that a dollar value is really important. Given that the McDougal Flats community does have lots of gravel pits and has put up with lots of noise and dust, I think that if we were to consider a different location that it needs to be something that is absolutely embraced by the people of McDougal Flat community.
“Although we have done some reaching out, I think we really need to continue to do that, that it needs to be really clear that this is for their benefit.”
Coun. Dwayne Fulton said any funds realized through the process could be spent on projects throughout the county, not just in the McDougal Flats area.
“It is county-owned land so it could be of benefit to more than just the immediate area residents,” he said.
Coun. Harris said, “I will respectfully disagree with councillor Fulton. I think it should be spent in the area.”
Reeve Angela Aalbers said, “I think this gives a great opportunity us again to go back to the community and work with the community and engage with the community.
“One thing I would definitely see brought back is a reclamation or security that we would hold for reclamation. I think we need to take the lead on this and determine whether or not we can set up an agreement where we actually have securities for reclamation.”
Coun. Johnson said, “I support ongoing engagement with the community.”
Coun. Alan Miller said, “I think with this being one of the first endeavours that we’ve taken with the solar, I would like to see some sort of a bonding system put in place to cover off some of our future costs.”
Following the discussions, council passed three motions:
• That council accept the McDougal Flats Community Engagement report as information and request that administration negotiate with Sun Alta Power two options, one that would see providing Sun Alta Power 75 acres of the subject site, including a five acre public amenity and the other that would see providing Sun Alta Power 80 acres of the subject site in exchange for financial consideration to be used for community benefit at alternative locations.
• That council request that administration return a report on the total financial picture of both of the options previously contemplated including the proposed financial returns for the local area, which will be discussed with the community.
• That council request that administration initiate further discussions with Sun Alta Power relative to reclamation obligations that will be captured in the lease agreement for council’s consideration.
All council members attended the Sept. 28 council meeting, held in person and on Zoom.