Power line relocation debate on hold

Council to meet with local MLAs Nov. 10
By Bryan Alary

If city council “passes the buck” on the Big Lake power line, it risks an unprecedented opportunity to address a complex problem, the chair of the environmental advisory committee (EAC) said Monday.

The 138-kilovolt AltaLink transmission line is responsible for numerous bird fatalities from collisions with wires near Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The location is also adjacent to a proposed wetland interpretive centre.

Council last week said no to joining a three-way partnership to move the line away from Big Lake and run it along the east side of Ray Gibbon Drive. AltaLink had committed $450,000 toward the move, while the province contributed $300,000.

Council instead asked the province and AltaLink to shoulder the $6.3-million cost of burying the line beneath the wetlands. Both parties gave the proposal a lukewarm initial response.

On Monday, EAC chair Jason Cooke urged council to reconsider.

“The status quo is unacceptable and that transmission line 747L must be relocated in a manner that recognizes the overall importance of the wetlands surrounding Big Lake,” he said.

Cooke called the Ray Gibbon Drive option a “compromise” but the best available because it includes the “unprecedented” opportunity for partnership. If St. Albert opts out, it puts relocation and other future partnerships at risk, he said.

“We should not endeavour to pass the buck and make relocation entirely somebody else’s problem.”

The EAC did not support burying the line because of environmental risks, Cooke added. It would require digging a trench through wetlands, destroying the wetlands in the process. Oil would also be used to cool underground infrastructure.

“Any system that involves oil could potentially involve leaking oil. Such leaking oil would then enter into the wetland habitat.”

As council’s advisory body, Cooke said the EAC wanted to clarify incorrect assumptions made last week. One was that there’s a precedent for the province paying to bury a line in Kananaskis – a main thrust behind Coun. James Burrows’ motion to lobby for provincial funding.

“To the best of our committee’s knowledge there is no comparable example within the province of Alberta that supports the burial of a line in an ecologically sensitive area,” Cooke said.

Second, the line is located mostly on city land, not just Crown land as was asserted. That makes it a city and provincial issue, he said.

Cooke recommended exploring other options like grant funding. Council should fully explore all other concerns before making a final decision, he said.

Wait and see

Council will not revisit its decision until after a Nov. 10 meeting with local MLAs Doug Horner and Ken Allred. The provincial funding request is one of about 15 items on the agenda.

Coun. Carol Watamaniuk brought forward a motion to make relocation a budget-time decision should that meeting indicate the funding is not forthcoming. Watamaniuk said council shouldn’t ignore the expertise of the EAC and office of environment.

“I don’t know if anyone on council has the kind of education in this area that all these people who have advised us have,” she said.

Coun. Lorie Garritty tried to amend the motion by attaching a $450,000 price tag – the city’s share of costs with a contingency worked in. That motion was defeated 4-3.

Coun. Gareth Jones said council is getting too hung up on costs. None of the proposed alignments are palatable, he said, including option three which would put the power line near the Riel Park soccer pitches.

Burrows was grateful for the new information from the EAC, but recommended taking no further action before Nov. 10. That motion passed 4-3.

Although the previous council still had a motion on the books to put relocation into the 2008 budget review (which did not happen due to an oversight), administration advised no further action is required. Last week’s decision takes precedence.

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Elke Blodgett