In an effort to build relationships and increase awareness of other organizations that have a complimentary purpose to our own, the Board of Directors recently met with a number of non-political organizations. On March 5 and 6, the board met with the Natural Resources Conservation Board, the Surface Rights Board, the Alberta School Board Association and the Alberta Summer Village Association.

Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB)

The AAMDC met with NRCB Board Chair Vern Hartwell, Executive Director Peter Woloshyn, board members Donna Tingley and Jay Nagendren as well as legal counsel, Bill Kennedy.  The NRCB is an agency of the Government of Alberta and reports to the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development. The NRCB reviews applications for non-energy mining, forestry, water management and recreation projects to ensure they meet the needs of Albertans’ overall public interest. The NRCB board is also an appeal panel for decisions affecting confined feeding operations made by NRCB approval officers and inspectors under the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA) to ensure the legislation and the interests of Albertans are upheld.

In 2010, the NRCB introduced a new, proactive, risk-based compliance program for regulating Alberta’s confined feeding operations under the AOPA. Alberta has close to 2,000 confined feeding operations and many were issued permits to operate before 2002, when the NRCB became responsible for regulating them. The new compliance program uses data on location, type and age of facilities to identify manure storage facilities that potentially could pose a risk to groundwater quality.  The program is part of the NRCB’s updated compliance and enforcement policy, which emphasizes operator education and voluntary compliance, with an escalating series of enforcement actions available to NRCB inspectors if necessary.

The AAMDC has one active resolution involving NRCB (7-11S: Natural Resources Conservation Board Approval Process) which directed the association to request the Province to review its approval process for confined feeding operation (CFO) developments and ensure all limiting factors such as water are taken into consideration before the development is approved; consequently the discussion centered on this issue.  AAMDC pointed out the CFO’s often wait years for licenses to be granted and in the meantime the CFO owners put out hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a project that cannot be initiated because of lack of water.

During the discussion it was noted that NRCB does consider Municipal Development Plans before passing a ruling on an application.  It was also noted that to date the Government of Alberta has not overturned an NRCB ruling.  The board suggested that NRCB attend district meetings and present their mandate directly to our members.

Surface Rights Board

The AAMDC met with Vern Hartwell, acting Chair of the Surface Rights and Land Compensation Boards, Gordon Chapman, board member, as well as the Director, Jill Mason and their solicitor, Karen Sinclair-Santos.

The Surface Rights Board (SRB) resolves disputes between industry and landowners or occupants when they fail to agree on right-of-entry or compensation relation to resource activity on private land. In the 2010 calendar year, the SRB received the highest number of applications in its history – nearly 1250 compared to 1045 in 2009. The SRB is established by the Surface Rights Act and exercises powers and carries out duties under the Surface Rights Act and Regulations as well as such other duties as may be assigned to it by the Lieutenant Governor in council.

The presentation highlighted how the board has taken into consideration the recommendations from the AAMDC’s Digging Deeper report. In the report, there were recommendations directed specifically to the operations of the board aimed at increasing transparency and instituting a mandatory alternative dispute resolution process. The AAMDC is pleased to report that all of these recommendations have been implemented.

The AAMDC board was then educated on the process of surface rights disputes, how compensation is determined, and how annual compensation levels can be reviewed.

Alberta School Board Association (ASBA)

AAMDC met with ASBA representatives President Jacquie Hansen and Executive Director Dave Anderson to discuss issues of common concern. Locally elected school boards are an integral part of local governance.

The AAMDC shared our position that rural schools are an integral part of viability communities in rural Alberta and many are facing closure or potential due to low enrolment despite the fact that rural municipalities have invested substantial local tax dollars and grants to maintain and improve infrastructure systems in communities. Access to rural schools maintains a high quality of life for rural families.  Both the AAMDC and ASBA were pleased with the continuation of the Small Schools by Necessity Grant (SSBN) in the 2012-13 budget.  Interestingly, school boards have significant flexibility to allocate funds, meaning that while many use SSBN funding to support those schools that are eligible for it, they are not mandated to do so.

The AAMDC supports the ASBA in that education funding should be provided through a stable, predictable source. In 2012-13, the revenue requirement for education property tax is $1.979 billion. This is a 6.4 per cent increase resulting in an additional $120 million.  The Government of Alberta indicates that for 2012-13, about 30 per cent, of the total operational funding for kindergarten to Grade 12 education will come from education property tax revenue.

If rural school closures continue, this could result in very significant travel time for students which will place them in a substantial disadvantage. As educational transportation funding becomes increasingly tight, rural school divisions must either increase revenues or decrease expenditures. Increasing revenues can only mean transportation fees charged to parents. Decreasing expenditures usually requires larger buses picking up more students or route consolidation. Both of these alternatives result in increased ride times for students.

Recent provincial initiatives were also covered including the proposed Education Act.  The ASBA feels it is enabling legislation providing natural person powers, increased autonomy and better ability to address bullying.  If it is passed, they will continue to monitor the regulations that will inevitably follow. This includes potential limitations on the type and magnitude of additional fees that can be charged to parents.  The proposed act also aims to reduce travel time for students.

Similarly, two pilot projects are underway in the province. One trial will explore reducing bus ride times for students by finding efficiencies and adding more bus routes when necessary. The project will focus on about 130 resident students attending their designated schools who spend more than an hour travelling to or from school each day. It will begin in early April and run until the end of the 2011/2012 school year.  The second will focus on making long bus rides more productive for students by installing Wi-Fi on buses. The project targets students who ride the bus for over an hour to and from school and will involve more than 300 students on up to 30 buses, each equipped with Wi-Fi technology. Students will be able to use their personal devices or school-supplied netbooks.

Enquiries may be directed to:

Stephanie Williston, AAMDC
Policy Analyst

Kim Heyman, AAMDC
Director, Advocacy and Communications

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