Some were worried they were gone for good, but the province has resurrected the controversial Bighorn Country public information sessions.

Still, at the second of four open house consultations, some Edmontonians still felt unheard on Saturday.

“They're listening and writing things down because that's what they have to do, but I fail to see they're going to take it to heart,” criticized one attendee, Trevor Kleijnen.

Hundreds gathered at the Polish Hall in Edmonton for a townhall that been rescheduled just days earlier.

“We're here to listen. We're not here to sell anything,” said Rick Blackwood, assistant deputy minister of environment and parks.

“This is a piece of real estate, an area of land that a lot of people have vested interest in.”

Bighorn Country—an area of Alberta backcountry east of Banff and southwest of Drayton Valley—has been under consideration for provincial protection since the 1980s.

In 2018, Alberta proposed protecting and developing the area.

Weeks later, a number of consultation sessions were cancelled due to NDP reports of public servants and project supporters being harassed by those who opposed the project.

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips suggested police had multiple open files regarding the allegations, but law enforcement could only confirmed it had received complaints related to harassment, resulting in a correction.

It was enough to spark cries for her resignation from the opposition.  

Phillips did not attend the Saturday information session, instead sending a statement that read, in part: “The province has engaged more than 50,000 Albertans and restarting the session will allow the government to reach even more.”

Another attendee, Shane Ducholke, equated the government’s effort to a pretense.

“All they've done is make it look like to the public that they're opening up to these people and listening to their concerns, when they're not,” Ducholke said. “At all.”

While many were vocal about their displeasure with both the plan and the process, othersat the meeting Saturday said they’re concerns lie elsewhere.

Chris Smith, a parks coordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, told CTV News his organization just wantsto make sure the land and its needs are kept at the forefront of the discussion.

“We don't want to see this get dragged down by the politics of the day,” Smith said. “We care about the long term protection of the area.”

He and other environmentalists want quick action,as they believe water quality and wildlife in Bighorn depend on it.

Two more open houses on the Bighorn proposal are scheduled for Sunday and Monday:

·         Feb. 3, 1-4 p.m. at the Westerner Centre, Red Deer

·         Feb. 4, 4-7 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion, Sundre

More information on the sessions can be found online. Members of the public can also review the proposal or participate in a survey online.
With files from Timm Bruch