Big Valley community gathers at council meeting to hear about land sale

·3 min read

Big Valley village council held a public hearing to provide information about a $1 sale of land to a local historical society. The public hearing was held at the May 11 regular meeting of council.

Mayor Dan Houle chaired the public hearing which featured representatives of the Canadian Northern Society, which operates Big Valley’s popular train station museum, and many members of the public, including resident Bethany Van Heck.

Van Heck introduced herself as writing a letter to council voicing concerns over a resolution passed at the most recent council meeting.

According to the unapproved minutes of the April 13 regular council meeting Big Valley council moved into closed session at that meeting to discuss a land sales item. After about 13 minutes the councillors came out of closed session and passed the following resolution unanimously: “Moved by Deputy Mayor Hoogenberg that council approves the proposal from the Canadian Northern Society to purchase that portion of land north of the train station indicated on the map for the sum of $1 with all subdivision and legal fees to be borne by the Canadian Northern Society.”

Readers should note municipal councils move into closed session to discuss land sales and other private topics routinely and do so wth the authority of the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Van Herk, who noted she’s been a resident of Big Valley since 2020, stated she didn’t necessarily oppose the sale of village land for $1 to the society, but wasn’t happy with the lack of communication around this issue. S

he pointed out though that in the days leading up to the public hearing communication has improved and she feels it makes sense for the society to own the property in question and that by selling it the Village of Big Valley reduces its liability.

However, Van Herk noted she had questions about the sale that she felt were valid because of the importance of the train station property to Big Valley’s economy: how will selling the land to Canadian Northern Society benefit the Village of Big Valley and how will selling the land affect the popular Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, the tourist train that visits Big Valley regularly?

It was noted at the meeting Canadian Northern is a non-profit society while Alberta Prairie train tours is a privately-owned company.

Rich Grayden and Shawn Smith spoke on behalf of the society; they stated their society has an excellent relationship with Alberta Prairie tours and the society plans to keep it that way long into the future.

They stated Big Valley’s train station and tourism industry is the envy of many other communities, attracting up to 20,000 visitors a year.

The society spokesmen stated Alberta Prairie contributes a lot to the Big Valley community. “They are so involved,” said Smith.

When pondering the question of how the land sale would affect Big Valley, Mayor Houle noted other than reducing the village’s liability, it should have little effect.

Houle pointed out the land in question can’t be used for development and once the society takes possession of it they will handle the maintenance needed. As well the society spokesmen stated there are plans for interpretive development on the land in question.

Coun. Clark German stated he liked the society’s proposal for the land because interpretive development will enhance the village’s looks and tourism economy.

German noted the society’s offer was discussed in closed session but the offer was accepted by resolution in an open meeting so the council didn’t keep anything from the public.

A number of members of the public were present at the public hearing and agreed the train station is quite important to Big Valley’s economy, attracting visitors from around the world and that the society’s proposal seems to be the best way forward for the land.

The issue was finished by Mayor Houle closing the public hearing.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review