Applications and Review Times
By Janeen Ogloza
From a quick glance at the graph below, and one can quickly see that there have been significant changes in the aggregate application process in the last 20 years.
SOURCE: ALTALIS, 2019; ALBERTA GOVERNMENT, 2019
DATA COMPILED AND ASSESSED BY TERRASHIFT ENGINEERING LTD.
Since the Surface Material Exploration Licence (SME) process was introduced it has consistently taken approximately a year to receive an approval, and now with the introduction of the ALR, the exploration portion of the process has increased to 1.5 years. Additionally, Surface Material Lease (SML) review times have almost tripled over time, and we can expect this to continue due to increases in environmental studies requests. In the end, this translates to longer review times and greater costs. The question becomes: whom does this benefit?
These impacts are ultimately felt by tax payers and communities as it increases the costs of the projects these sites support
Originally, the Aggregate Land Review (ALR) application was meant to serve as an opportunity for Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) to assess whether municipalities already have an interest in the area (30 days to respond) and to check whether the area is within any current environmentally sensitive areas (30 days to assess). The entire process should take 45 days as described by the AEP documentation (Government of Alberta, 2018), but each reviewer interprets the ALR purpose differently and some state that the timeline is a minimum, not a requirement.
Unfortunately, these are not the only applications that the aggregate industry is struggling to receive timely government approvals. Private applications, Water Act applications, wetland assessment impact applications, other related disposition applications (Licence of Occupation (DLO), Miscellaneous Lease (DML), etc.) are all facing similar issues, and in the end the same reason is provided: lack of man power. If the government cannot find the required man power, perhaps they need to start investing in more technological solutions, as they did with their online portal for Water Act applications.
As of February 12, 2019, there are 562 applications directly related to aggregate exploration and development in progress:
- of which 61 are ALR, 192 are SME, and 309 are SML
- 54%  were submitted between 2013 and 2017
To be clear, the problem is not that there are three different applications that need to be submitted in order to begin development on Public Land (four if you include the municipal process), the problem is the uncertainty. Developers are willing to work within the established policies and processes; however, for every two to four applications submitted only one will receive a decision. In other words, developers have a 25 to 50 per cent chance of receiving a decision on their applications. How can industry be expected to plan and operate effectively with this kind of inconsistencies?
Also, each new review process introduced into the system, increases the amount of paper work to be reviewed by AEP, which compounds application delays, and increases the cost to complete the applications for developers. These impacts are ultimately felt by tax payers and communities as it increases the costs of the projects these sites support. It is a lose, lose, lose situation. There needs to a balance between environmental protection and efficient allocation of resources, as it benefits all of society.
Overall, there are four main areas that AEP needs to streamline, so developers do not have their applications stuck in purgatory:
- Enforce the 45-day review time for ALR applications
- Outline and explain the purpose of the ALR to reviewers
- Reduce timelines for SME and SML reviews
- Reduce unnecessary environmental requests for SMEs and SMLs
The ASGA and ASGA Lands and Environment (L&E) Committee have begun working on addressing these areas of concern to AEP by maintaining an open dialog with the government. As an industry we need to be united and continue supporting our association if we wish to be heard and see changes. TerraShift provides this information and analysis at no cost to the ASGA and industry as it is important to support this cause.