Power line misses budget

by Bryan Alary
as posted in Bryan’s Budget Blog
Oct 20, 2008
Unadopted Minutes of meeting

The cost to move a high-voltage power line away from Big Lake will not find its way into the city’s 2009-11 budget, or any other spending year for that matter. The line is responsible for numerous bird fatalities due to collisions with overhead wires.

Council on Monday rejected its own environmental advisory committee’s (EAC) recommendation to put $450,000 toward relocating the AltaLink transmission line. AltaLink had offered to match (unheard of for environmental reasons), while the province already cut a $300,000 cheque.

The EAC advocated running the line along the east side of Ray Gibbon Drive, one of six options presented to council. The city’s own office of environment said that option would not eliminate fatal bird collisions, but would certainly move it from a “high-risk” area and likely reduce fatal strikes.

Out of sight …

Rather than put city dollars toward the move, council instead favoured James Burrows’ idea – ask the province and AltaLink to bury the line underground at a cost of $6.3 million. (A move not without environmental consequences).

Burrows argued it would be a “great gift” to the people of St. Albert if the province came through. Moving the line, he said, would boost eco-tourism opportunities at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park.

Indeed it would be quite a gift if the province came up with the millions needed. That would be 10 to 20 times Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation’s original contribution, depending on whether AltaLink agrees to such a partnership. The early response from both organizations has been short on enthusiasm.

Dream on

Coun. Lorie Garritty said council is “dreaming in Technicolor” if it thinks the province and AltaLink will reach that far into their pockets. He may be right.

However, Mayor Nolan Crouse worried about the implications of using reserves to pay for the move. Replacing the money (something council would be advised, but not obligated to do) would require the equivalent of a 0.75-percentage point tax increase.

Crouse doesn’t view the power line as the city’s top environmental priority. If the city is to go to government for environmental funding, it should be for issues like improving the water quality of the Sturgeon River, he said. (Dredging the river is a $2-million expense in 2013, according to the 10-year capital plan).

Sports backlash?

Crouse and Coun. Gareth Jones shared worries about the power line’s proposed proximity to the Riel Park sports fields. A map of the EAC’s preferred alignment shows it running across the southwest corner of the soccer pitches.

Realistically, relocating a power line near the sports fields would not win many friends among soccer parents, the rugby club, cricket, Kinsmen Club, BMX – and on down the list.

Those are potentially louder voices than the EAC and the three residents who spoke in favour of relocation Monday.

Interpretive centre questions

After years of delays, Monday’s decision should trigger a powerful conclusion. Either the province will come through and bury the line, or it’s possible they’ll cancel their $300,000 cheque.

It’s not clear when the city will get an answer. But you can bet the issue will come up again when St. Albert, the province, Ducks Unlimited and the Hole family resume talks about creating an interpretive wetland centre situated in Lois Hole park – in view of a bird-killing power line.

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Elke Blodgett