What is OPaC?

Alberta Culture and Tourism manages the Online Permitting and Clearance (OPaC) system, which has two main purposes: to discover if a historic resource will be impacted by a proposed development and to regulate the approval of archaeological and palaeontological excavation permits.

Developers and municipalities use OPaC as a tool to determine if a proposed development may affect a historic resource. Before beginning development, the project’s proponent submits an application for approval to proceed. The application is reviewed by the Historic Resources Management Branch to determine if the proposed development has the potential to damage any historic resources, such as archaeological, palaeontological, historic or Aboriginal traditional use sites. The Branch reviews approximately 3,000 development applications each year!

Archaeologists and palaeontologists obtain permits through OPaC before proceeding with an excavation. Anyone who intends to excavate for the purpose of archaeological or palaeontological research must submit an application with the details of their project to the Historic Resources Management Branch for review. Permits are given out in order to regulate the amount of excavation activity that takes place in the province and to ensure that those who are excavating for archaeological and palaeontological purposes are qualified to do so. 500 applications for archaeological and palaeontological research permits are received per year by the Branch. The Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation has more information on the qualifications necessary to hold such permits and the conditions under which studies must take place.

Ten years ago, applications were managed the old fashioned, paper-based way and reviewing them was a much slower process. With the boom in the oil and gas industry, the workload increased substantially and this created the need for a more efficient permitting system. In 2009, the idea of OPaC was introduced as a semi-automated way to process applications. This was a welcome transition and has made the application procedure more convenient for developers who are seeking to conduct work on Alberta’s land as well as for the people managing the applications.

There are a number of advantages to the OPaC system:

  • It has brought a consistent approach to the process and ensures that applications and inquiries are addressed in a timely manner.
  • The online database stores information on the location of archaeological, palaeontological and historic resources as well as Aboriginal traditional use sites. This data is used to build a cumulative sense of the resources and developments that are on Alberta’s landscape. This way, strategic measures can be taken to protect the resources.
  • It serves as a starting point to capture heritage data and assists in identifying issues in advance to better protect Alberta’s historic resources.

With the help of the Geographic Information System (GIS), we can map the locations of proposed developments and historic resources to help identify and minimize potential conflicts.

GIS map showing the locations of development projects that have been processed through OPaC.
GIS map showing the locations of development projects that have been processed through OPaC.

OPaC has brought efficiency to the application process, but a wider significance lies in the fact that it supports a regulatory process that helps to discover historic resources that may otherwise go unnoticed and, therefore, unprotected – an important point, since the more we can preserve, the clearer picture we can create of Alberta’s past and this has immense benefits for future generations.

The Historic Resources Management Branch is responsible for the preservation and protection of Alberta’s historic resources as mandated by the Historical Resources Act. OPaC is a key tool in fulfilling this responsibility, as it allows experts the ability to easily and quickly determine the level of impact that could potentially threaten Alberta’s historic resources. Alberta Culture is committed to the preservation and protection of Alberta’s historic resources and this system helps to ensure that the opportunity for enhancing that knowledge is not lost.

For more information on OPaC, please refer to our website.

Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer, with special thanks to the OPaC team for their assistance.

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