Presentation made to the Environmental Advisory Committee to Council which was asked to look into the matter of the powerline relocation and make their recommendation to council

I would feel a lot more at ease talking to you if we had this meeting at the BLESS platform. Actually, in order to get some idea of what this is all about, I would suggest that the EAC go on a field trip to the BLESS ob servation platform at the edge of the lake and see for themselves the spider web trap that has been put in the way of migratory birds.

I’ll be as brief as I can on an issue I have been involved with, rather passionately, for over a decade.

Let me go back 20 years. If you are familiar with the 1996 IBI EIA for the former western bypass alignment, you are aware that it reports that as early as 1986, two DU biologists Brett Calverley and Terry Kosinski, NAWMP, reported unacceptably high instances of waterfowl mortality due to the powerlines, particularly during migration. They recommended mitigation to minimize this hazard. ( references)

Their early research is reflected in the 1996 EIA which recommended consolidation of the overhead transmission lines into the bridge structure since they are significant factors in bird mortality. Sadly, these recommendations to reduce the sources of obstruction seemed to have somehow been forgotten when the current alignment was approved.

You all have a copy of Nikki Heck’s MA thesis on the impact of transmission lines on migratory birds. You also have the recent letter from Hugh Wollis, AB fish and wildlife biologist. There is very little I can add to these experts’ comments. Wollis’ concise report reflects Nikki’ extensive research findings. Both would agree that if this alignment were proposed today, alternative alignments/construction methods would be suggested.

You also have a copy of my letter to the PM, Premier and others. (I was notified by the PM’s office that he passed my appeal on to Min. John Baird.)

I wrote to them because I feel that the tax payers of St. Albert should not have to carry the burden of having to pay for ill-considered choices made in the past.

Even with the considerable financial contributions already made by the Province and AltaLink, it will be still a major expense for St.Albert.

I feel that assistance with relocation of the lines is an opportunity to enhance the environmental credibility of the Province and the Federal Government, and for them to benefit nationwide, and internationally, by showing some good will and concern about migratory bird kills. Whether the birds drown in the tar sands hundreds at a time or hit a powerline, one by one, on their flight path on the way up there, these deaths are preventable.

If higher levels of governments are not willing to bear more of the cost of relocating the lines, they should at least enforce the international laws.

Various Acts protect a wide range of migratory birds: The Alberta Wildlife Act, the Federal Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Canada is a signatory to the latter and should enforce this Act, like the USA does. Why do the Province and the Federal Government stand by and ignore their own and international laws?

You are no doubt aware of the international status of Big Lake as Important Birding area (IBA). This is a project which identifies a network of critical sites to conserve the natural diversity and populations of Canadian bird species. Big Lake is also being nominated as under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. The Vision Statement of the Big Lake Management Group (2004) reminds us that “Big Lake is a wetland resource treasured by the surrounding region and recognized locally and internationally as a model for integration of residential development with the preservation and enhancement of a natural wetland environment, and for the delivery of world-class education and heritage tourism programs.” �he current situation contradicts this vision.

Then there is, of course, the social-political reality: This powerline is located in a high-risk area, directly adjacent to the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The line crosses a top birding site, a wildlife viewing area, a provincial park, all major deciding factors for where not to put a powerline. Visitors to the Park are likely to witness bird powerline collisions from the Bless Platform as well as from the proposed nature interpretive centre.

Do we really want to be known as an observation place for bird kills, right at the “portal” to the park named after our Lois Hole? How will the public perceive this, especially in an area where wildlife is expected to be protected? I can not imagine the media ignoring it and politicians or local ecotourism benefiting from it.

Environmental groups, school children, bird watchers and visitors from as far as Europe and the Far East observe the rich bird life of Big Lake. “if these collisions took place in direct observation of environmental groups or the general public, or any other type of situation where the media or politicians would be notified, then it would be considered a politically significant event.” (N. Heck, Risk of Bird Collisions with Electric Power Transmission Lines in Alberta, 2007)

Ideally, I would like to see the entire line that runs through the wetlands put under ground. I understand that presents technical and financial challenges.

But I also understand from Altalink that moving the lines even a few hundred metres north, away from direct flight path between the lake, wetlands and lagoons, will make a major difference.

Has the City approached our MLA and MP to ask for additional financial assistance? Could we suggest they join a “fact-finding” EAC excursion to the site to watch a spectacular sunset–and hold their breath as yet another bird tries to get past the overhead lines.If there is any political will inSt. Albert to get this line relocated, I am certain a way can be found.

Elke Blodgett

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Elke Blodgett