No power play on AltaLink line

Relocation of line in the budget but not funded

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

City council has put plans to move the AltaLink power line on ice until the province firms up plans for Lois Hole Park.

Council voted 6-1 to list the AltaLink power line relocation as an unfunded project in the city’s 2009-2011 capital budget. The decision signals the city’s intent to eventually move the line – just not this year.

The motion was made by Mayor Nolan Crouse earlier in the budget process and came up for debate at Monday’s meeting.

“The good news is we’ve included it in our capital plan,” said Crouse in an interview. “The bad news is we’re not going to be doing it in 2009.”

Deal with province
The move is the latest development in the long-running controversy surrounding a 128-kilovolt transmission line that cuts across Big Lake near Ray Gibbon Drive. Studies by line owner AltaLink suggest the line is killing an unknown number of birds and Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture officials have called the line “a major obstacle” to their preferred spot for an interpretive centre in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park.

Both parties have offered to split the cost of moving the line to another location at a cost of about $1.05 million, $450,000 of which would come from the city. In October, the city asked its partners if they would be willing to pay the full cost of burying the line instead – about $6.3 million. Both parties said no. The city moved to put a business case to move the line into this year’s budget deliberations, which Crouse did by proposing to add it to the capital budget as an unfunded project.

The city and the province signed an agreement earlier this month to work together to plan the location of the power line and the interpretive centre, Crouse said. The agreement, which contains references to private land purchases, was not made public as of press time.

“Us jumping into moving the line without purchase of land and the interpretive centre in place [would] be making a mistake,” he said.

Council will hold off allocating money towards a line move until these details are settled. Crouse was uncertain when that might happen, because it would depend on how long it took the province to buy the lands for the park.

Hope and disappointment
Coun. Carol Watamaniuk opposed the motion. The city has not acted on the wishes of the last council to put money towards the line move, she said, and has not asked AltaLink officials how this decision would affect them. “I can’t believe what has gone on here,” she said. “This has been a real circus.”

Environmentalist Elke Blodgett, who was in the gallery, said she was disappointed by council’s decision. “What a farce!” she scoffed. “What exactly does it mean? They’re not going to do anything about it.” Given the current state of the province’s finances, she questioned whether the province would ever commit more money towards the project.

In an interview, Watamaniuk said she was hopeful the line would get moved eventually. “It’s been in never-never land for the past couple of years. At least it is now a project � an unfunded one, but the project is there.” The city’s Heritage Sites Master Plan was also listed as unfunded for years, she noted, but it eventually got done.

AltaLink is still committed to relocating the line, said spokesman Scott Schreiner, but it’s hard to say what these delays would do to the project’s price. The company was still optimistic it would be able to work with the city and the province. “We’ll move as they’re ready to go.”

kma@stalbert.greatwest.ca

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Elke Blodgett