Resort Proposal Open House Sparks Questions

 

The Watermere Local Area Structure Plan Open House hosted by private developer Dansol International Inc. was held on March 26 at the Thorsby Community Hall. Watermere Resort is proposed to be a privately owned resort featuring residential (single family, duplexes, town houses, multi-family dwellings and mixed residential—vacation, retirement, and recreational) and commercial development with hotel and spa on 309.73 acres north-west of Pigeon Lake, opposite Zeiner Park on the west side of Highway 771. 
Development plans were on display to provide information and to generate public feedback before Dansol makes its official public presentation to Leduc County. 
Land Use: The proposed 1149 dwelling units housing an estimated 2710 residents—comply with the density requirements of Leduc County’s North Pigeon Lake Area Structure Plan (NPLASP). 108 acres of the resort will be left as Parks and Green Areas. 39 acres are designated for Stormwater Lakes.
Water: 
Water/wastewater services are designed to be self-sustaining and quite unique in that the planners say they will have little environmental impact on the surrounding areas or Pigeon Lake.  
Four lakes, constructed on the property, will play an important part in the development’s water supply strategy.  Stormwater ponds will supply the developments’ potable water. Because the stormwater quality needs to be maintained at a high level, construction activity will be restricted to development sites. That way, erosion and compaction on open space ground water recharge areas will be limited.
Water will be withdrawn from these lakes with an independent system of pumps, mains and hydrants. Water for gardening will be provided in conjunction with the firefighting water supply and will be provided on a controlled flow basis. 
Treatment will be provided as required by Alberta Environment. Water withdrawn from the lakes will provide the on-site treated potable water for the development.  
But what if there is a prolonged drought? Groundwater that is available from wells located on the property could be pressed into service to supplement the surface water. Groundwater could be drawn from deep aquifers to protect groundwater supply from the shallower aquifer to existing users. 
Dr. Bruce Jank, CEO for Canadian Clean Water Technologies Inc. and Senior Engineer on the project, said the development will feature unique, and fully self-contained water services—water treatment and distribution, and a wastewater treatment plant. Water drawn from the on-site lakes specifically developed to detain runoff on the property will be treated to normal potable standards and used in gardening.
Wastewater treatment strategy: 
        Still to be approved by Alberta Environment: wastewater, which will be collected by a gravity collection system which conveys sewage flows by gravity to a lift station which will pump the effluent to the sewage treatment plant.  
        The sewage treatment plant will provide advanced treatment that will meet drinking water standards and then discharge the water to a constructed wetland in the north east portion of the site.
Conservation
        Dansol claims it will implement an environmentally sustainable servicing strategy that follows Alberta Environment’s Water for Life strategy. Aggressive water conservation methods will be employed with low flow water faucets, shower heads and toilets; low water consumption dishwashers and washing machines; point of use water heaters will be standard.  It is expected that no more than 130 litres per capita day lpcd will be used (compared to the national average of 325 lpcd).
        Reuse will be achieved by the capture and storage of runoff for primary and secondary uses such as meeting the daily water demand, irrigation, and cooling.
While Dansol International has done several other developments, this one, with its particular focus on being innovative, environmentally friendly and adopting Low Impact Development design principles, offers something unique to Alberta.  
Danny Soleja, CEO of Dansol said, “There is a demand for this type of innovative service. It has not been done in Alberta before and is a perfect opportunity for it. We are incorporating innovative ways—especially the water treatment and distribution and wastewater treatment.” 
Lakes:
        Four lakes, Storm Water Management Facilities, that will be strategically placed within the development, will capture runoff. Control structures will be provided on the northeastern lake and southern lake to control the outflow to predevelopment standards, so any runoff exiting from the resort will not be more than the predevelopment flows.  Three of the lakes will be connected by a stream.
        Water from the southernmost lake will be pumped up to the northwestern lake and decant into the central lake, and then back into the southern lake. The plans also call for a running brook lined with rip-rap.
Going Green
        Peter Yackulick, a rural land use planner on the project, is excited about the open park spaces—33% of the gross area will be left “green.” 
        “It will be a very pleasant residence for those who are attracted to a quiet country lifestyle.  We will be retaining native vegetation in undisturbed areas and wild grasses will be introduced to emulate the natural environment.  This will cut down on the need to water.”      
        Landscape tech Kerry Buksa said shrubby peatland in the Northwest corner will be preserved for wildlife habitat and green space. “We will be putting in larch and tamarack. The overall feeling will be enhancing nature.” 
         A wet area in the northeast is being enhanced into a lake, with shallow riparian areas which will promote the growth of cattails and aquatic vegetation, and provide an enhanced habitat for birds and amphibians.     There is a peat layer on the southern peripheral which is being designed as a large 10 hectare lake, which along with being a stormwater management tool, is a source of raw water supply, pending Alberta Environment’s approval.     
        If recreational activities make you happy, there will be areas for tennis, volleyball, basketball, playgrounds and wheelchair-friendly walking trails throughout the green areas. 
        The Watermere Resort LASP says, “In keeping with the North Pigeon Lake Area Structure Plan’s goal to direct development away from the lakeshore, Watermere does not have direct access to Pigeon Lake.  The natural environment and on site amenities will address the needs of most users.”  
        However, because Pigeon Lake is a primary draw, lake-based recreation will be a priority via Pigeon Lake Provincial Park (Zeiner Park in particular). Pedestrian access to the lake and the highway crossing will be subject to Alberta Transportation requirements. The Leduc County’s Lake Access Levy will be used to meet public recreation needs and are expected to address the demand for lake access as it evolves over the anticipated 15 years of development. 
County response:
        Leduc County Mayor John Whaley said Council wanted to first hear what the public had to say about the development before Council responded publically to it.
         “The North Pigeon Lake Area Structure Plan (which provides a policy framework to manage land uses for orderly and environmentally conscious development around the lake) was actually funded and done by these developers (Dansol) because the County didn’t have the staff or the manpower to do it at that time.” 
        He recalls when the NPLASP Public Hearing was held in October of 2010, it was attended by well over 100 people who all spoke against it, but Council passed it anyway, 5:2.  
        Council has received between 50 and 80 emails as soon as the notice of the Watermere Resort LASP was posted on the Leduc County website. 
        “A lot of people are asking serious questions [as to] why we would approve it without safeguards put in place,” reports Whaley. “Certainly the lake is a big concern. I don’t see it as NIMBY-ism. I see it as genuine concern for the lake itself.”  
        He goes on to say that most people are asking what the impact is going to be. “That’s a good question to ask. We really need to ask someone who understands the environment better…to give us some answers.”
What comes next?  
        On April 24th there will be a comprehensive report put together by County staff members and they will make a report to Council based on all the information they’ve received from Dansol, as well as the feedback from the public. 
        At that time, Council will make a decision regarding what it wants to do.  What are Council’s options?  
        According to Whaley, Council could ask for more things to happen; they could ask for information; they could say, ‘We don’t want to go there’; or go straight to a Public Hearing—the official, formal part where the public can get involved.
        Whaley says he can’t predict when it will go to a Public Hearing, “I think we are a little ways from that yet. The report should be out to the public that day or the following week, depending on what’s in the report and as long as there’s nothing unusual in it.  We want to be as open and transparent as we can.”  
        He closed by saying Council has a lot of concerns. “We’ve asked many of the same questions the public has asked. We want some answers too.”
We’ve Got Questions: 
        The Pigeon Lake Watershed Association submitted a detailed document to Leduc County listing its concerns about the Watermere Resort LASP: the valuable wetland location makes it the wrong place; there are a number of issues with the plan and infrastructure that make it the wrong design; and the state of the health of the lake makes it the wrong time.  Until these issues are addressed, the group respectfully requests that the LASP not be approved. The document and letters may be viewed online.
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