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    Categories: Local News

City steps into ski dispute

The city of St. Albert has stepped in to settle a fight over ski trails in River Lot 56 officials say, but don’t expect to reach a settlement before the snow melts.

City council heard this week that Chris Jardine, St. Albert’s general manager of community and protective services, had been acting as an informal mediator in the ongoing dispute between the St. Albert Nordic Ski Club (STANSKI) and the River Lot 56 Natural Area Society.

Due to a disagreement over tree removal, STANSKI has not been allowed to groom trails in River Lot 56 this winter. Skiers can still enter the area, but major events (such as the recent Family Day loppet) have been held elsewhere.

Jardine, who was unavailable for an interview, is arranging a meeting between the city, the province, STANSKI and the river lot group this March to discuss the issue, said city manager Bill Holtby. “We certainly have a real interest in River Lot 56 and Nordic skiing and would like to have a resolution satisfactory to all parties.” He hoped to have a settlement by the fall.

The province is looking for a long-term solution to this problem, said Doug Bowes, the provincial land use policy manager who oversees River Lot 56. It was probably too late to set any new trails this season, he added.

Talks at standstill

The dispute centres on tree removal. STANSKI wants a hazardous tree removal plan that would let its members cut down trees. The river lot society has refused, saying that would break the terms of its lease with the province. This December the two groups announced that they would no longer set trails through the river lot as a result.

Under the current lease from the province, said Mary Ann Cuvilier, president of the River Lot 56 society, STANSKI is allowed to remove fallen trees and branches that block its trails, but cannot cut down trees. As a natural area, the river lot has to be kept in as natural a state as possible, which restricts which trees can be removed and who can remove them. “We can’t change the requirements of our lease,” she said.

STANSKI called in the city after talks with the river lot group stalled, said Greg MacIntyre, spokesperson for the ski group. “We felt we were at a stalemate,” he said. “We’ve handed off the issue and the city is going to take it up on our behalf.”

STANSKI and the river lot society have a difference of opinion when it comes to tree removal, Bowes said, one he hoped would be resolved at the March meeting. “It has been a tough situation,” he said, and the river lot group has been doing its best to follow the terms of its lease.

Change the steward?

One solution could be to transfer stewardship of the river lot from the River Lot 56 Society to the City of St. Albert, said Mayor Nolan Crouse. The group has been a good manager of the region, he said, but its members and most of the region’s users are city residents. “All of that [region]should be the responsibility of the City of St. Albert to have stewardship over.”

That’s not something that would happen easily or overnight, Bowes noted — the province owns the land and is interested in preserving it. The land is also within the boundaries of Sturgeon County.

Cuvilier said she’d be disappointed if the land was transferred to the city in the future. “It would be a shame to lose natural area status and turn it into just another park.”

STANSKI had no interest in becoming the region’s steward, MacIntyre said, and had no comment on the mayor’s proposal.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.