City returns power line money

By Kevin Ma
Staff Writer
St Albert Gazette, December 27 2008

St. Albert is returning the $300,000 grant it received from the province to move the AltaLink power line.

Council voted last month to list the relocation of the 128-kilovolt-power line in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park as an unfunded project in the city’s capital budget, signalling its intent to move the line sometime in the future.

The motion capped months of debate over whether or not the city would contribute to a cost-sharing deal between the province and line owner AltaLink to move the line, which has been criticized for killing birds and interfering with park aesthetics. As part of the deal, the province sent the city $300,000 in June 2007, which the city set aside as deferred revenue.

As a result of last month’s motion, said Dean Screpnek, St. Albert’s chief financial officer, the city has decided to return the grant as well as $18,557.42 in accrued interest.

“We’re cutting the cheque as we speak,” he said.

The province had given the city the money on the assumption the line move would be going ahead, Screpnek said. “Now that there’s some uncertainty as to whether the project is moving ahead, it’s just reasonable that the funds get returned.”

These decisions were the result of discussions held between the city and the province in December to work together on the location of the power line and interpretive centre in the park, said city manager Bill Holtby. “The waterfowl issue was not seen as a high enough priority issue to fund the project at this time,” he said, adding that aesthetic considerations would be sorted out as the park’s plans progressed.

“Depending on the location of the visitors’ centre, the line might not hamper the overall vista.”

Once that location is settled, the province and city will decide whether they still wanted to move the line.

Uncertain future

The city’s actions throw into question its commitment towards the line move, said Miles Constable, president of the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS). “Certainly the environmentalists in St. Albert were more concerned with the constant culling of birds,” he said, with aesthetics being a comparatively minor issue.

“Is the City of St. Albert going to ante up some money if they decide that the aesthetics of this power line are not conducive to the park? Or are they going to waffle around and say, well maybe it isn’t that bad after all?”

The birds were the original reason for moving the line, said Coun. Carol Watamaniuk, but have been overtaken by aesthetic considerations.

“Of course it bothers me about the birds,” she said, but the bigger concern was how the lines affected the park. “Do we honour Lois Hole by looking at power lines?”

Delaying the move now is more a reflection of the state of the economy than anything else, said Archie Landals, the Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation director responsible for designing the park. “It’s a long way from being a dead issue as far as I’m concerned,” he said, adding he was personally optimistic the move would happen eventually.

The location of the power line would be an integral part of the decision on where to locate the visitor’s centre, Landals said. “The options with the power line there are different than the options where it’s moved, there’s no question.”

Landals wasn’t sure when the centre’s location would be finalized, but it could be in a few years, he speculated.

“At that point, we’d probably look for the same kind of approach we’ve been suggesting in the past – that it would be a three-way split between us, St. Albert and AltaLink.”

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