by Dr. Jason Cooke, Chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee to Council
October 27, 2008
The EAC had been asked to make recommendations to council on the relocation of the Altalink power line in St. Albert. They did so at the October 20, 2008, council meeting, but their recommendations were not accepted.
As a follow up, and to clarify what appeared to be a lack of understanding of the issues, Jason Cooke spoke to Council on October 27, 2008.
He started by recognizing the contributions AltaLink had made to the committee’s understanding of the problems involved in the relocation of the lines. The committee feels that the lengthy discussions they had with AltaLink make them well-informed of the complexity of the project, which involves environmental, social and economic considerations.
Jason Cooke stressed the international importance of the Big Lake area for migratory birds, and its importance as wildlife habitat in general. The designation of Big Lake as Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park will attract more attention and St.Albert will benefit from what was called “a sort of ecological anchor for our community”.
He went on to say that “the status quo is unacceptable, and that the transmission line 747A must be relocated in a manner that recognizes the overall importance of the wetlands surrounding Big Lake.” It has become obvious that a “perfect solution does not exist for this particular problem, and that a compromise will be required.”
The EAC feels that AltaLink and Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture have already offered their financial support. They believe this is unprecedented and is a unique opportunity for Council to also support a project that will benefit the City. The EAC does not think the relocation will go ahead if the City is unwilling to participate “in a meaningful way”. They say that we “should not pass the buck” and ask others to take over the entire cost of the relocation, which would mean going back on an earlier commitment and could possible jeopardize future partnership projects.
Since the EAC feels council must have the best advice that can be provided to come to a decision, Jason continued by clarifying a few misunderstandings which arose at the previous council meeting. (Oct.20).
A reference was then made that other underground AltaLink transmission lines had been installed by the Province in Kananaskis, and that that precedent should be used to ask them to do the same here. The fact is that neither AltaLink nor the Province ever paid to bury lines; a private developer chose to bury lines in a subdivision at his cost in the Three Sisters development in Canmore. Thus “council would be ill-advised to proceed on the assumption that there is precedence for the Province to be involved in burying an AltaLink transmission line”.
Furthermore, it had been stated that the Transmission Line 747D was located on Crown Land, i.e. within the LHCPP. Actually, the line only crosses a very small portion of the park, where it spans the outlet of the Sturgeon River. Thus the portion of the line being recommended for relocation is mostly located within the City of St. Albert. This, the committee suggests, “makes the relocation of the transmission line an issue for the City of St. Albert to resolve in partnership with the Province of Alberta, and not an issue for the province alone”.
The EAC recommends at this point that council take more time to consider all implications before coming to a final decision to withdraw from the partnership agreement the previous council had with the Province and AltaLink. The EAC offered their continued assistance to Council with any environmental problems that might arise out of the relocation of the lines. They also suggest other sources of funding be investigated, such as for example the grant program of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
The EAC also suggested that the installation of the “Firefly Flappers” along the lines where they cross the river be completed. They do not consider this the ultimate solution to the problem but it might reduce bird mortality until the line is relocated.
Jason Cooke concluded by urging council to accept the advice offered by Administration and the EAC and to “commit municipal funds to the project to recognize the benefit that the transmission line relocation will ultimately have of the ecologically important wetlands surround Big Lake, and ultimately, the residents of our great City”.
Summary submitted by Elke Blodgett