WHEREAS the Historical Resources Management Branch of Alberta Culture administers matters related to the Historical Resources Act; and
WHEREAS historical resources fall into four categories: archaeological sites, paleontological sites, historic buildings and other structures and aboriginal traditional use sites; and
WHEREAS approvals for new surface material operations are administered through the Code of Practice for Pits by Alberta Environment and Parks which requires compliance to Section 37 of the Historical Resources Act; and
WHEREAS for surface material operations less than five hectares in size on public land or Class 2 pits on private land (as defined in the Code of Practice for Pits), the applicant must consult Alberta Culture’s Listing of Historical Resources prior to initiation of any development activities; and
WHEREAS the Listing of Historical Resources administered by Alberta Culture identifies lands as containing or having high potential to contain historic resources; and
WHEREAS designation of the historic resource value on lands (which evaluates the potential of the land to contain historic resources as determined by the Alberta Historic Resources Management Branch) is made without widespread public consultation; and
WHEREAS many landowners are unaware of the regulatory requirements that exist as a result of historical resource designations placed without notification on private lands; and
WHEREAS the regulatory requirements linked to the designation of lands as having potential for a high historic resource value places a high financial risk upon those developing resources upon those lands, as development requires a historical resources impact assessment and approval from Alberta Culture; and
WHEREAS existing gravel pits that expand beyond five hectares require Historical Resource Act approval, which may require numerous historical resources impact assessments to be undertaken despite the disturbances that have already occurred in the immediate area; and
WHEREAS all costs to undertake a historical resources impact assessment are the responsibility of the landowner or developer; and
WHEREAS all historical resources are the property of the Crown;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request the Government of Alberta to review the requirements and costs for historical resources impact assessments be funded by the Government of Alberta;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Alberta develop a formula for financial compensation to landowners should discoveries of historical resources on the land result in restrictions to land use.
The Historical Resources Management Branch (HRMB) of Alberta Culture administers matters related to historical resources including archeological resources in Alberta.
Alberta Culture’s Land Use Procedures Bulletin for Surface Materials Historical Resources Act (HRA) Compliance Section B, requires that applicants must apply for HRA approval for all proposed surface materials developments over 5.0 hectares in size. At Alberta Culture’s discretion, a historical resources impact assessment (HRIA) may be required.
For surface material operations five hectares or larger on public land or Class 1 pits as defined in the Code of Practice for Pits on private land applicants must apply for HRA approval through Alberta Culture’s online permitting and approval system for ALL proposed surface materials developments over five hectares in size. Development activities cannot proceed until HRA approval has been obtained.
At Alberta Culture’s discretion, activities that are targeted for lands that will, or are likely to, contain significant historic resource sites MAY require an HRIA prior to the onset of development activities.
A copy of the HRA approval document must be included with the Conservation and Reclamation Business Plan that is submitted to Alberta Environment and Parks. This plan is mandatory for registration of a gravel pit under the Code of Practice. In 2021, during the application stage to expand an existing gravel pit the Municipal District of Willow Creek undertook an archaeology survey as part of a Stage 1 historical resources impact mitigation review which is a requirement of the HRIA.
During the review of the lands upon where the existing gravel pit was located it was determined that the “Listing of Historical Resources” index described the land as having Historic Resources Value (HRV) of five. Given that lands with an HRV of five are considered to have “high potential” but do not contain known historic resource sites, there is no requirement to seek HRA approval for development on such lands. However, Section 31 of the HRA requires that anyone who discovers an historic resource during the course of development must notify Alberta Culture for direction on the most appropriate action.
Through the HRIA a historical resource site was newly discovered consisting of heated stones and stone chips. It was determined that additional archaeology work would be required which would consist of excavation of an area approximately 80 m2 with work expected to take approximately 14 days. The cost for this work was expected to be $139,941.51. Following the completion of the field work an interim report would be issued summarizing the results of the HRIM fieldwork which would be provided to the HRMB that would guide their regulatory review of the gravel pit expansion application and provide the basis for the regulatory response which may include an HRA approval or alternatively the issuance of a Stage 2 historical resources impact mitigation study which would require an unknown amount of additional archaeology work at a unknown additional cost.
The Historical Resources Management Branch Schedule requirements state that “depending on the results of the Stage 1 investigation, Stage 2 investigation may be required.” This caveat is intended by the HRMB to reserve the possibility that during the required fieldwork materials may be found that warrant additional work however this placed a significant and unknown risk to the municipality and the landowner in terms of cost and as such the expansion of the application to expand the gravel pit did not proceed.
As a result of the requirements of the Historical Resource Management Branch substantial costs already spent by the Municipal District and the landowner on the application process were lost and more significantly scarce gravel resources immediately adjacent to a working gravel pit have been permanently sterilized from future development and use.
Maps of Southern Region
Alberta Historic Resources Management Branch – Listing of Historic Resources (Map)
Blue areas indicate HRV of five which result in a requirement for reporting of any historic resources and potential for Alberta Culture to order additional work as a condition of its approval.
Note that the HRV five follows every river, stream or major coulee feature in southern Alberta: an area where gravel resources are prominently found.
Historical Resource Impact Assessment Process
If an activity is likely to result in the alteration of, damage to or destruction of a historic resource, the
person or company undertaking the activity may be required by the Government of Alberta to:
Project-specific requirements are issued in response to a Historic Resources Application, but all assessments must comply with some standard conditions.
See the following Standard Conditions document for details:
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Culture and Status of Women
Thank you for your letter concerning the Rural Municipalities of Alberta’s Resolution 6-21F, which relates to Historical Resources Act approvals for the surface materials mining industry. The resolution requests that the provincial government pay for the industry’s Historical Resources Act requirements and compensate landowners should the discovery of historic resources interfere with proposed commercial development activities.
The Government of Alberta, like every other province and territory in Canada, bears the legislative responsibility to protect and preserve historic resources, which include archaeological and palaeontological sites, historic buildings and Indigenous traditional-use sites. These resources represent an important part of Alberta’s heritage and are sensitive to disturbance by development activities. Under the Historical Resources Act, the Ministry of Culture and Status of Women regulates development activities that could adversely affect significant historic resources. If a project appears likely to damage a significant historic resource, the department issues a requirement for the developer to undertake a Historic Resources Impact Assessment in advance of development.
To ensure that our regulatory processes for the surface materials mining industry are streamlined, consistent, and transparent, staff of my ministry have developed compliance guidelines for the sector. These guidelines rely on the Listing of Historic Resources, an inventory of lands containing historic resources as well as locations considered highly likely to contain these resources. The Listing is updated regularly to reflect discoveries in the field and our evolving understanding of the distribution of archaeological artifacts and palaeontological specimens across the landscape. The guidelines require that some surface material mining projects situated on lands included in the Listing be submitted for Historical Resources Act approvals.
It is important to note that my department is mindful of the need to strike an appropriate balance between historic resource concerns and economic considerations. For example, not all projects submitted for approval result in the issuance of requirements to undertake Historic Resources Impact Assessments. According to departmental statistics, approximately 57% of surface materials projects submitted for Historical Resources Act approvals are granted clearance without the need for assessment. It is also important to note that developers use the Listing of Historic Resources as a planning tool to avoid or limit their activities in areas that could be subject to regulatory requirements. The Listing is publicly accessible on my department’s website and any Albertan wishing to review this information is encouraged to do so.
For those surface materials mining activities that are proposed for highly sensitive areas, my department requires Historic Resources Impact Assessments prior to development impacts. These assessments are important as this industry’s activities result in total ground disturbance within project footprints. Due to the typical situation of these developments along major waterways, which are common locations for the discovery of both archaeological and palaeontological resources, these requirements regularly result in the unearthing of ancient artifacts and specimens. Recording and recovering these resources prior to development impacts, or requiring that developers avoid significant sites, ensures that Alberta’s historical record is preserved and protected. This is important, as these resources offer a window into the rich record of prehistoric life for which our province is justly famous and into the societies and cultures of the Indigenous peoples who have occupied this land for millennia.
Alberta does not assume the responsibility for costs of Historical Resources Act requirements issued to developers, or provide payments to landowners in the rare cases when development does not proceed. The obligation of commercial developers to assume the costs associated with addressing Historical Resources Act requirements is standard across all industry sectors. It is common for other Government of Alberta regulatory departments to issue requirements that involve studies (e.g., slope stability, vegetation inventories, rare species surveys) for which the developer is expected to pay the costs. This approach is also employed in jurisdictions across Canada. Our program has operated successfully in this manner for several decades.
As you know, the Legislative Assembly has established a Select Special Committee on Real Property Rights which is exploring some of the issues you raise. The committee is slated to issue a final report in June 2022, and its findings will be reviewed by my department to determine if changes to our regulatory approach are appropriate.
The Government of Alberta response indicates that there are no plans to consider changes or revisions to the current assessment process under the Historical Resources Act which requires developers to conduct historical resource assessments in areas deemed as likely to contain such resources. The response also indicates no intention to develop a compensation mechanism for landowners in cases where property becomes undevelopable due to the discovery of historical resources.
RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will continue to advocate for a mechanism to reduce the impacts of the historical resources assessment process on both landowners and developers.