The Alberta Government announced yesterday that the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) has been approved by Cabinet.
The LARP is the first of seven regional plans proposed to be created under Alberta’s Land-use Framework and the Alberta Land Stewardship Act to facilitate land use planning on a regional level. The LARP encompasses the northeastern portion of Alberta, including the Fort McMurray area and surrounding oilsands areas. With this approval by Cabinet, the LARP, under the Land Stewardship Act, has the force of law.
While the LARP was created with the input of individuals and organizations across stakeholder groups, including industry, aboriginal communities and conservation organizations, the final approved version of LARP has created much discussion and controversy although it is only days old.
Most significantly in this regard, LARP expands the total conserved lands to two million hectares and changes the designation of the existing Dillon River Conservation Area into a Wildland Provincial Park, for the purpose of increasing the habitat protection for the threatened woodland caribou population.
However, while conservation organizations argue that these new designations are insufficient to prevent the further decline of this caribou population, the oil industry notes that these designations will see the cancellation of approximately 19 oilsands leases which have not yet been developed. Compensation for these cancelled leases is a continuing, and undoubtedly hotly debated, topic of discussion between the Alberta Government and effected industry players.
While the LARP establishes a framework for the continued growth of this region, including environmental limits in relation to air and surface water, and addresses the more immediate challenges facing Fort McMurray with its continued urban growth, there are a number of details which are still to be worked out. The issue of compensation for impacted industrial leases, and the associated costs to the Alberta Government, will very likely continue to be at the forefront.