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Passive recreation proposed for former McDougal Flats gravel pit

Mountain View County residents don't want motorized activity for recreation in a former county gravel pit near them

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - The county is honing in on possible passive recreational opportunities to offer in a former gravel pit near Sundre where a solar project is also proposed.

Administration presented Mountain View County council last week with the results of an in-person community engagement with McDougal Flats area residents as well as a July survey on the future use an 80-acre, former county gravel pit in the area.

Currently, SunAlta is proposing to establish a solar project on 40 of the acres and the county is gauging interest in a community amenity on the remaining 40 acres.

“To summarize what we heard in person -- which was confirmed through the online survey -- is that the most consistent messaging is that residents want nothing to do with anything motorized. They don’t want any type of ATV activity. No motorized activity is what they want out there specifically,” said Christofer Atchison, the county’s director of legislative, community and agricultural services.

“Low-impact passive recreation is definitely the most prevailing thing we continue to hear from out there. Whether that’s bike paths or walking trails, additional treed areas, some type of interpretive park along with the solar aspect, sitting areas is what we’ve heard or the most prevalent sentiment from residents there,” he told council.

Equestrian riding arenas, either indoor or outdoor or a combination, was also a popular option for a community amenity among respondents to the survey and in attendance at the in-person engagement, he said.

People also weighed-in on the proposed solar project.

“There was some comments from both sessions around allowing SunAlta to just use the entire property as solar project recognizing it is an industrial area and probably getting the serene quaintness that people are looking for might be difficult in that location,” Atchison said, adding there were also comments about not having any solar project there at all.

Before going back to the community for further engagement, Atchison asked council to weigh-in on what direction they might be leaning.

Reeve Angela Aalbers was to quick say she didn’t see council wanting to invest in any large indoor facility or a large infrastructure build of any sort.

“When we look at, for instance, the last building that we put in the Bergen pit I think it was a half million dollars and it was nothing fancy so if you’re looking at infrastructure building-wise you’re looking at significant investment. So is that direction we want to give, no significant erection of facility?” Aalbers asked council members.

Many council members voiced agreement with the direction, including Coun. Dwayne Fulton.

“I would agree with doing the passive non-motorized pathways or network throughout. But I think 40 acres, that’s an awful lot of area to try and make pathways or whatever. I think the acreage could be reduced and increase the solar footprint but maybe somehow we could integrate if the topography lends itself there could be some pathways around the perimeter and partway through it but I don’t see 40 acres. That’s an awfully large area to maintain for the public,” he said.

Coun. Jennifer Lutz said she also heard residents say at the open house that more land in solar would be acceptable.

“And you know, if it’s already like 40 acres of solar, what’s the difference if it’s 70 -- like it’s kind of like lipstick on a pig. You’re not going to go out there to…you might pick other locations to recreate,” Lutz added.

Atchison told council that 40 acres is the minimum that SunAlta would consider entering into an agreement with the county on for the solar project.

“So depending on how council wanted to proceed, 70 aces, 60 acres, SunAlta would be happy with anything over 40 acres,” Atchison said.

Coun. Peggy Johnson said she was in favour of passive recreation on the site but said she was reluctant to have the whole 80 acres as the solar project.

“I think that we probably created an expectation that this is going to be more than solar panels,” she said.

Aalbers said if council decided that the amenity would be passive recreation, residents could weigh-in with what they would like to see and acreage could be determined later.

“But I think we really do need to get that feedback and narrow that scope down first from the residents as to what they’d like to see as an amenity on that property,” Aalbers said. “And then of course it’s council’s consideration as to how much it would cost to develop that amenity and how much it would cost to actually operate and maintain that amenity. There’s still a lot of discussions to be had after this.”

Atchison said SunAlta is wanting to have somewhat of an indication in the next couple months around what the community amenity would look like and how much land is going to be available for the company so they can start developing a site plan and moving forward through the redesignation process.

“As far as the community amenity portion, the thought was that once we figure out generally what we’re looking for, the 2023 budget would include some funding to be able to develop a concept plan and start to put together on paper what this is going to look like and how it’s going to be harmonious with the solar project,” Atchison said. “And then looking forward to redesignation process in 2023. Going forward, we’re hopeful for development in 2024.”

Council made a motion to receive as information the McDougal Flats community engagement report pertaining to the McDougal pit future use visioning and develop a plan to go back to residents with a passive recreation opportunity list.