A Kneehill County councillor told his peers that residents want a question about the future of Horseshoe Canyon on the upcoming municipal election ballot.
The issue was discussed at the July 20 regular meeting of council.
Coun. Jim Hugo, in the agenda memo for this item, stated, “Good morning, I have been asked by residents to bring forward a ‘request for decision’ for a referendum question on our future involvement in Horseshoe Canyon to be on the ballot for this fall’s municipal elections.”
Horseshoe Canyon is a natural archaeological attraction that Kneehill County acquired from the provincial government several years ago.
A “request for decision” is a binding decision by council, usually involving a resolution.
“I was asked to bring this forward by certain residents,” said Hugo.
Coun. Ken King noted councillors heard a detailed report in May from the Horseshoe Canyon focus group about plans for the attraction, the county appears to be moving forward with plans and wondered what the referendum question would be?
Hugo answered that residents want a moratorium on local tax money being spent on the attraction until a complete financial disclosure is made on the county’s activity at the canyon.
Hugo stated residents are concerned local tax money is being spent on the canyon without a long term plan or goal.
Reeve Jerry Wittstock stated the county is currently running a pilot project on parking at the canyon which is showing a steady clientele, but more will be known after the study is complete.
Wittstock stated attractions often start small and develop over many years and a small municipal investment could attract much private investment in years to come.
Hugo responded that residents are worried that $100,000 to $150,000 is spent on the canyon without a business plan in place.
Coun. Wade Christie stated recreation is important to every municipality and rarely do such attractions generate profit.
Christie stated he feels the canyon has a lot of potential, as Reader’s Digest recently listed 40 “hot spots” to visit and Horseshoe Canyon was on that list.
Coun. King stated the canyon focus group is public and anyone concerned about the canyon could have been involved in its work. Also, King pointed out the focus group and the county’s strategic plan identify the canyon’s future, including the fact Kneehill County is planning no major development for it.
Hugo stated residents say when they look through past budgets they can’t figure out what’s being spent at the canyon.
King responded that if councillors don’t understand some projects they are welcome to ask questions during the budget process.
County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen stated municipalities have the authority to place questions on the ballot, but the results are not legally binding.
He also noted if council wanted to ask the ratepayers their opinion on the canyon’s future, staff would need the text before nominations close on Sept. 18.
Councillors unanimously accepted Hugo’s presentation as information.
Horseshoe Canyon business
Coincidentally, councillors received a request from a recreational business near Horseshoe Canyon asking for their support in a grant application.
Kneehill County received a request from Devon Dekeyser asking for a letter of support for an application to Travel Alberta’s investment program.
“Devan Dekeyser owns the campground located on the NW 22-28-21-W4 adjacent to Horseshoe Canyon,” stated the agenda memo. “He is applying for a grant through Travel Alberta Investment Program. As part of the application process, infrastructure related projects require a written endorsement from the local municipality.
“Devan Dekeyser has received several development permits from Kneehill County to establish a campground at this location.
His latest permit allows him to add 26 additional RV sites, cabins and a car wash. He is looking to expand further and will be applying for this grant.”
During discussion it was stated demand for camping is growing in the canyon area and Dekeyser is responding to that demand.
“It is nice to see a private entity expanding in that area,” said Wittstock.
Coun. Debbie Penner agreed. “I think this is wonderful news,” she said.
Councillors unanimously agreed to support Dekeyser’s grant application.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter