Motion withdrawn after learning no fund exists for moving power line
by Kevin Ma
St. Albert Gazette Saturday, May 10, 2008
A St. Albert councillor has suggested putting plans to move a power line away from Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park on hold in an effort to lower taxes.
Coun. Len Bracko made a motion at Monday’s council meeting for the city to shift $800,000 from a fund to move a power line away from Big Lake into the city’s stabilization fund to reduce planned tax increases. He withdrew the motion when he learned that the fund did not exist.
The 138-kilovolt line in question runs along the south side of Big Lake and has been of concern to local birders and park-goers for years. The Big Lake Environment Support Society estimates that about 400 birds die each year from hitting the line.
In 2006, the city and line-owner AltaLink started talks to move the line so that it would run parallel to Ray Gibbon Drive and not be in the birds’ way. Those talks have stalled as the city, the province and AltaLink debate how to pay for the move’s $900,000 price tag.
Bracko said he made his motion in council because he was worried about the effects a proposed 8.77 per cent tax hike would have on city seniors. (The hike was later trimmed to 5.9 per cent.) “What I was trying to do was to free up $200,000,” he said.
The motion would have taken the $800,000 line-move fund and put it towards city expenses for this and the next three years.
Bracko clarified that he was not opposed to moving the line and would want to see the proposal debated by council before making a decision on it. However, he said several local residents with expertise in the environment had told him that moving the line would be a waste of money. “Moving it 200 yards is not going to accomplish anything. It may even kill more birds…it’s still going to be an eyesore.”
Nikki Heck, environmental advisor with AltaLink and one of the few people to study bird strikes on this stretch of line, said that moving the line would actually reduce collisions. Birds shuttle between Big Lake and a nearby lagoon regularly, she said, and the line is right in their path. “The birds don’t have a big enough runway to clear the line,” she said. Moving the line would take it out of this runway zone, reducing collisions.
CASH ON HAND?
City staff, the province and AltaLink have been discussing a three-way-split to pay for the line move.
Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture has chipped in $300,000 due to the line’s proximity to Lois Hole Provincial Park. “We see the power line as a major obstacle,” said Archie Landals, the Alberta Tourism director overseeing the park’s development. His department is designing a multi-million dollar interpretive centre for the park and the line runs right past their preferred spot for it. Having interpreters explaining dead ducks in front of the centre to visiting school kids would not be a good thing, he said.
AltaLink remains committed to a move, said spokesperson Scott Schreiner, and is prepared to chip in about $400,000. The company would not support burying the line, he added, as that would be up to three times more expensive.
City staffers are still studying the line move, said city manager Bill Holtby, but haven’t found any funds to do it yet. “Our capital funding is in reasonably good shape,” he said, and has been unaffected by the cash crunch brought on by the Servus Place deficit. Ideally, he said, the move would go into next year’s budget.
Jim Hole, owner of Hole’s Greenhouse, said the line would have to be moved or buried to protect the aesthetics of the park. “Having Mom’s name attached to it, if she was around she’d want that line out and buried.”