Residents out in force for appeal hearing of controversial Wabamun Lake campground

It was a full house at the Parkland County Centre Monday, as about 80 people attended an appeal hearing for a controversial campground proposed for the north shore of Wabamun Lake.

The application by Samco Developments to build a seasonal campground, which would include 300 lots for RVs on a 57-hectare site about 75 kilometres west of Edmonton, was previously denied in November by the county. 

During several hours of presentations on Monday, in which Samco is hoping to overturn that ruling, it was clear that emotions about the project continue to run high.

Sam Martin/CBC

"This proposed development impacts more than meets the eye," Donny Rain, manager for the Paul First Nation Industry Relations Corporation, told CBC News.

"I am here because there is no recognition of Paul First Nation as rights holders. There is no recognition of the treaty relationship between Paul Band and the Crown, of which the province and counties are members of."

Paul Band is located on the shore of Wabamun Lake.

Members of the nation are concerned about the health of the lake, Rain said. He's worried a campground could cause environmental problems, like erosion and the introduction of invasive species like blue algae from campers' watercraft.

"Water is important," he said. "It's not just this lake. It's any lake, it's any river, it's any stream, it's any fresh water body."

Sam Martin/CBC

Samco declined to comment but Janice Agrios, legal counsel for the developer, highlighted the history of the site during the hearing before the Parkland County Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.

She noted Samco acquired the land in 2011.

The developer started clearing the site but wasn't approved to do so, according to an October 2012 Water Act enforcement order from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The order states vegetation on the shoreline and hillside had been removed and a portion of the property had been excavated, graded and reshaped into three benches.

"Examination of the site concluded that the unauthorized activities created a significant potential for erosion of soil and a high potential for increased sediment in Wabamun Lake, and that insufficient precautionary measures had been taken by Samco on either property to prevent this from occurring," says an October 2012 article from the province.

"The enforcement order will ensure that appropriate remediation of the properties is undertaken to minimize further erosion of the lands and sedimentation of Wabamun Lake."

A May 2018 amendment says Alberta Environment conducted inspections on the property in 2017 and 2018, and observed erosion in several areas, along with deposition of sediment on neighbouring land. It called for further remedial plans.

"Samco is very motivated to comply with all orders made by Alberta Environment," Agrios told the appeal board.

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Shirley Munro is the chair for Wabamun Area Stewardship Alliance of concerned citizens, which she said formed as a result of the opposition to the campground proposal.

Munro highlighted her frustration with the history of the property and the need to protect the area.

"Lake Wabamun is one of the most pristine lakes at this point that is still viable, that you can go and recreate at with boats. Fishing enjoyment occurs on the lake," she said.

"There's several subdivisions and summer villages, villages that are around Lake Wabamun with thousands of people who chose to move there for that particular reason, to enjoy the lake and the environment."

The appeal board did not reach a decision on Monday and will reconvene on Jan. 28.