St. Albert/Big Lake Altalink High Power Line Relocation Decision

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Timeline

The location of the power transmission line in St. Albert has been contentious for many years because of its impact on migratory birds. AltaLink, owners of the line, and the Province supported the relocation. It was a long wait for this issue to become an agenda item for City Council.

I am going to take you on a visual excursion to the BLESS observation platform at the edge of the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park at Big Lake. (photos to follow) According to the official maps, this is the only location which permits access to the lake shore. You will see what visitors to the park see as they approach the platform by the two available access trails. You will see what obstacles the birds face on their flight path between the lake, the river, adjacent wetlands and lagoons. The photos were taken over the past two years. Some of them may be disturbing. Visual Journey (please wait for the slideshow to download fully)

I first became aware of the toll the lines were taking on migratory birds when I found a great blue heron dangling by his neck right over the river above the wildlife observation platform. The bird did not fall off into the river for at least a year. I do not have a photo, but many people remember this sad scene. A bit later, I watched a cormorant slowly die in the Riel Lagoon. He had a broken wing and could not escape. I have watched an injured swan slowly freeze in to the river ice, surrounded by hungry coyotes.

There has been no end to sightings of injured or dead birds. For obvious reasons, very few of them are documented, and I did not take any photographs until 2007.

The power line was installed in 1978. Scientists pointed out as early as 1986, and again in 1996 (See Report prepared by Penner and Associates for IBI Group for the City of St.Albert) that the “high elevation power lines at the mouth of the Sturgeon River and parallel to the shore of Big Lake and Riel Lagoon are a hazard for waterfowl, particularly during migration and resulted in unacceptably high instances of waterfowl mortality.” Mitigation was recommended at that time.

In 2003, renowned ornithologist Dr. Richard Thomas confirmed that the south shore of Big Lake is an important flight path for migratory birds. The topographic features of the south shore tunnel migrating birds towards the outflow of the river. Possibly the presence of springs at Horseshoe and Kirk lakes is the reason that this area remains ice-free longest and is one of the first ice-fee areas on the lake, thus attracts the first waterfowl to arrive at the lake and supports the last to leave before freeze-up. (Photos to come)

Beginning in 2004, I started to report the bird kill incidents which I personally observed and requested that the lines be more clearly marked. I was alerted to the need to do this much, at a minimum, by an EC employee who came to investigate the landfill leachate issue and noticed the impact of the lines.

Recently (2008) Alberta Sustainable Resources Fish and Wildlife biologists spoke out in support of relocation and stated that if the line were proposed today, they would ask the company to look at alternative alignments/construction methods. (See Powerline bird kills)

This confirms Altalink environmental advisor Nikki Heck’s thesis (M.E.Des) which concludes that “transmission lines situated near this important (bird) habitat that are also near populated and recreational areas should be considered high-risk because of the potential for negative response to observed mortality.” (See A Landscape-scale Model To Predict The Risk Of Bird Collisions With Electric Power Transmission Lines In Alberta)

So I was very happy to see the recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) to relocate the power line tha finally came before council. (See St. Albert Environmental Advisory Committee)

It is not just the social, political and aesthetic implications of bird/power line collisions which justify the relocation, it is also important to consider all the facts on which a decision should be based. That includes the visual evidence that many birds do get killed right at the doorstep of the LHCPP, in full sight of the BLESS viewing platform and the proposed Nature Interpretive Centre. It would be awkward to have to explain human-induced bird mortality to students or children visiting a Provincial Interpretive Centre.

The Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) to City Council worked diligently to prepare their recommendation to council. Altalink co-operated fully at all times and sent their expert team to St. Albert to make a presentation on alignment options to the EAC and answer the City’s questions, as well as to confirm the Altalink contribution (ca $400,000) to the total cost. That information, we all hoped, would reaffirm the previous council’s support of the need for this realignment.

Thanks are also due to the Province and their financial support ($300,000) which the City received in 2007. Min. Gary Mar, on behalf of the Province, is on record (2005) as supporting this project (See Response to Nov 8 letter on power lines).

I am not sure you are aware that this would have been the first ever relocation of a high power line for environmental reasons in Canada, and possibly in North America. St. Albert could have looked back with pride in future to a decision that would have established our environmental credibility. The one-time contribution of $300,000 by the City could certainly have been justified, and grants could have been investigated by City staff to ensure tax increases would not have been necessary.

The end of the long AltaLink transmission line saga…
…St. Albert’s New Years Gift to the migratory birds

It should not come as a surprise to anybody that St.Albert City Council on December 22, 2008, voted 6:1 to support the Mayor’s motion C714-2008 “That the AltaLink transmission line relocation be shown as UNFUNDED as part of the Capital Budget Process”.

Apparently, Council has opted not to honour the previous council’s commitment to cost-share a portion of the relocation of the AltaLink high power line at Big Lake/Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park.

Against the advice from Altalink, Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture, environmentalists, various scientists and its own Environmental Advisory Committee, who all have recommended the relocation, the City decided to postpone indefinitely their contribution to the funding of the project. That means the project, for all practical purposes, is in limbo: St. Albert has an endless list of unfunded projects, and this one seems to be at the bottom of the list.

No attempt was made by the City to research various environmental grants that might be availalble for funding of the project.

The partnering agreement the City had with the Province and AltaLink appears to have been shelved, without even any advance consultation with AltaLink if they would still be willing–given the state of the economy–to support this project in the indefinite future. The Province had already contributed $350,000 in 2007, and AltaLink was willing to spend up to $450,000 “in kind”. It will be interesting to see how promptly the City repays the $300,000, plus interest, to the Province.

There seem to have been complex and confidential political issues involved in reaching this decision…which the mayor calls “good news”.

Elke Blodgett
January 2009

Supporting Documents

Migratory Birds Conservation
Incidental Take of Migratory Birds in Canada
1. Towards an Updated Regulatory Approach
2. Participating in Consultations

J.D. Irving Limited Pleads Guilty and Sentenced to Pay a $60,000 Penalty for Charges Laid Under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act
October 23, 2008, from Wildlife Enforcement Division, Maritimes

Court Rejects Challenge to Migratory Birds Convention Act
June 9, 2008, from Nature Canada

A Landscape-scale Model To Predict The Risk Of Bird Collisions With Electric Power Transmission Lines In Alberta
Master’s Degree Project by Nicki Heck, September 2007 (4.7 Mb PDF)

Patterns of raptor electrocution mortality on distribution power lines in southeast Alberta
Master’s Degree Thesis by Cindy Michelle Platt, Fall 2005 (1.5 Mb PDF)

P1010582a P1010588a

An appropriate location for observing wildlife! Prime view of the powerline and bird collisions!

Timeline

Upgrade to the portal of Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. All those “fireflies” on the St.Albert AltaLink transmission lines should provide a delightful backdrop for nature observation at the BLESS platform. They will no doubt discourage birds…but there must be a less unaesthetic way of doing that in a Provincial Park!Coincidentally, on April 6, 2009, the Alberta Legislature voted unanimously to support investigating the feasibility of burying high voltage transmision lines … in certain areas, including in environmentally sensitive areas! Read More

Politicos string successes, failures in 2010
by Brian Alary
St Albert Gazette, December 29, 2010

City names peninsula after Blodgett
by Ian Kucerak
Saint City News, December 24, 2010

Pond peninsula to be named after Blodgett
by Kevin Ma
St Albert Gazette, December 22, 2010

City Honours Local Environmental Advocate (190 Kb PDF)
Elke’s Peninsula to be officially recognized in the spring,
December 16, 2010

Council wipes mud off naming policy
St Albert Gazette, December 1, 2010

Update on St. Albert Altalink High Powerline relocation
November 13, 2010

Power lines ‘invisible’ to birds
Earth News, November 2, 2010

Natural Environment Along East Potential Routes (160 Kb PDF)
by Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, September 22, 2009

High Voltage Power Lines & Birds (172 Kb PDF)
by Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, September 22, 2009

The Environment and High Voltage Power Lines (148 Kb PDF)
by Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, September 22, 2009

Mother-of-All Town Hall Meetings on the Mother-of-All Power Lines (88 Kb MS Word)
by Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, October 26, 2009

It’s Time To Bury The Lines (444 Kb PDF)
by Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, November 2, 2009

Safety of birds on the line
Edmonton Journal, October 23, 2009

Stelmach looks to burying powerlines (284 Kb PDF)
Edmonton Journal, May 21, 2009

Province gives buried power lines another look (184 Kb PDF)
Edmonton Journal, May 8, 2009

Letter to the Editor, Edmonton Journal
Elke Blodgett, February 12, 2009

Flying start to power firm’s plan
Calgary Sun, February 11, 2009

City to give back power line money (540 Kb PDF)
by Phillip Woolgar, Saint City News, January 16, 2009

City returns power line money
by Kevin Ma, St Albert Gazette, January 10, 2009

Power line Q & A
January 9, 2009, from Bryan’s Budget Blog

Relocation of line in the budget but not funded
by Kevin Ma, St Albert Gazette, December 27 2008

St. Albert opts not to fund move of transmission line
Council sanctions relocation but denies money to do it
Edmonton Journal, December 24, 2008

Power lines staying put after vote (580 Kb PDF)
by Phillip Woolgar, Saint City News, December 24, 2008

AltaLink relocation issue postponed again
December 4, 2008, St. Albert city council budget debate

Power Line Lights Could be Out (260 Kb PDF)
by Phillip Woolgar, Saint City News, November 21, 2008

Power Line Moved to Budget Debate (110 Kb PDF)
by Kevin Ma, Saint Albert Gazette, November 19, 2008

St. Albert power line move delayed
by Hanneke Brooymans, Edmonton Journal, November 19 2008

Power line plot thickens
November 18, 2008, from Bryan’s Budget Blog

Power line, again
November 18, 2008, from Bryan’s Budget Blog

Council To Reconsider Altalink Power Line Move
November 17, 2008, from St. Albert’s Place On The Web

Province won’t back proposal (220 Kb PDF)
by Kevin Ma, Saint Albert Gazette, November 12, 2008

Power line pass
by Bryan Alary, Bryan’s Budget Blog, November 12, 2008

Council should take second look at power line move (196 Kb PDF)
by David Climenhaga, Saint City News, November 7, 2008

“Human error” a big mistake
Elke Blodgett to the St. Albert Gazette, November 1, 2008

City Receives Powerful Advice (152 Kb PDF)
by Phillip Woolgar, Saint City News, October 31, 2008

Council Acted Right (64 Kb PDF)
by John Barkemeyer, Saint City News, October 31, 2008

Power line part of a bigger picture
Editorial St. Albert Gazette October 29, 2008

Power line relocation debate on hold
by Bryan Alary St. Albert Gazette October 29, 2008

Unadopted minutes of St.Albert City Council, AltaLink funding item
October 27, 2008

Presentation made to St.Albert City Council
by Dr. Jason Cooke, October 27, 2008

City Council Agenda Report: Altalink Funding (57Kb PDF)
Monday, October 27, 2008

Province, Altalink reject city’s plan (588 Kb PDF)
by Kevin Ma St. Albert Gazette Saturday, October 25, 2008

Plug Pulled on Power Line Deal (160 Kb PDF)
by Glenn Cook Saint City News Friday, October 24, 2008

Reader Questions Grant Possibility For AltaLink Move
October 24, 2008, from St. Albert’s Place On The Web

Councillor Roger Lemieux Responds To Questions
October 23, 2008, from St. Albert’s Place On The Web

St. Albert Wants Province To Bury Power Line
by Hanneke Brooymans, quoted in St. Albert’s Place On The Web October 22, 2008

No money for power line
by Kevin Ma, St. Albert Gazette Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Council of the City of St. Albert decision not to support powerline relocation
Minutes, October 20, 2008

Power line misses budget
October 20, 2008, from Bryan’s Budget Blog

Open Letter
to St. Albert City Council & St. Albert City Manager, October 20, 2008, from St. Albert’s Place On The Web

Council Decision (1.4 Mb PDF)
AltaLink Transmission Line Relocation, October 20, 2008

Visual Journey
Slideshow: a brief photographic record

St. Albert Environmental Advisory Committee
Update on AltaLink Transmission Line Relocation, September 25, 2008 (300 Kb PDF)

Bird death facts important
Ken Allred, MLA, St. Albert, Gazette, August 16, 2008

Number of dead birds shouldn’t factor into power line move
Dave Burkhart, Gazette, August 16, 2008

Number of bird deaths from power line collisions grossly overstated
Dan Stoker, Gazette, Aug. 9, 2008

Time to move on power line
Gazette Editorial, August 2, 2008Power Lines Priced (230 Kb PDF)
Kevin Ma, July 23, 2008

Presentation made to the Environmental Advisory Committee to Council
who was asked to look into the matter of the powerline relocation and make their recommendation to council
Elke Blodgett, July 16, 2008

Fish and Wildlife responds
Hugh Wollis, July 14, 2008

Will Council Sell Out Anything For $ervu$ Place?
Barb Freysteinson, from St. Albert’s Place On The Web, May 17, 2008

Letter to Prime Minister, Premier, etc.
May 15, 2008

Bracko red-faced over line motion
Motion withdrawn after learning no fund exists for moving power line
by Kevin Ma, St. Albert Gazette Saturday, May 10, 2008

St. Albert environmentalist Elke Blodgett says a proper environmental assessment would have prevented the power line’s placement near prime bird habitat
by Hanneke Brooymans, Edmonton Journal, May 2008

Reader Response Question . . .
from St. Albert’s Place On The Web, Thursday, March 18, 2008

St. Albert Mayor responds to resident’s question about relocation of AltaLink line
from St. Albert’s Place On The Web, Thursday, March 13, 2008

Readers Ask Mayor Questions . . .
from St. Albert’s Place On The Web, Thursday, March 13, 2008

The yearly migratory bird-killing season at Big Lake in St. Albert is upon us again
from St. Albert’s Place On The Web, Thursday, March 13, 2008

Big Lake Power Line Bird Kill Alarming . . .
from St. Albert’s Place On The Web, Monday, March 10, 2008

Funds holding up power line move
Gazette, April 18, 2007 (100 Kb PDF)

Lois Hole Provincial Park
Letter to the Gazette, April, 2005 (100 Kb PDF)

Response to Nov 8 letter on power lines
Gary Mar, Minister of Community Development, December 12, 2005 (212 Kb PDF)

High wire bird hazards fitted with lights
by Jeff Holubitsky, Edmonton Journal, September 5, 2005 (4 Kb PDF)

New reflectors for feathered friends
By Susan Jones Gazette, August 27, 2005

Power company looking at ways to keep feathered friends from flying into transmission lines
By Morgan Campbell, The Toronto Star, May 5, 2005

New tricks to keep birds from dying
By Glenna Hanley, Gazette, April 30, 2005

Power companies need to take responsibility for the damage their lines are doing to birds
Letter to the Gazette, April 23, 2005

Power wires create a death trap for migratory birds headed into future park
Letter to the Gazette, April 16, 2005

Excerpt: EIA Report on West Boundary Road
1996 (480 Kb PDF)

Report prepared by Penner and Associates for IBI Group for the City of St.Albert
1996 (280 Kb PDF)

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Elke Blodgett