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…
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”.
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)
An appropriate location for observing wildlife! Prime view of the powerline and bird collisions!
|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
City names peninsula after Blodgett
Pond peninsula to be named after Blodgett
City Honours Local Environmental Advocate (190 Kb PDF)
Council wipes mud off naming policy
Update on St. Albert Altalink High Powerline relocation
Natural Environment Along East Potential Routes (160 Kb PDF)
High Voltage Power Lines & Birds (172 Kb PDF)
The Environment and High Voltage Power Lines (148 Kb PDF)
Mother-of-All Town Hall Meetings on the Mother-of-All Power Lines (88 Kb MS Word)
It’s Time To Bury The Lines (444 Kb PDF)
Safety of birds on the line
Stelmach looks to burying powerlines (284 Kb PDF)
Province gives buried power lines another look (184 Kb PDF)
Letter to the Editor, Edmonton Journal
Flying start to power firm’s plan
City to give back power line money (540 Kb PDF)
City returns power line money
Relocation of line in the budget but not funded
St. Albert opts not to fund move of transmission line
Power lines staying put after vote (580 Kb PDF)
AltaLink relocation issue postponed again
Power Line Lights Could be Out (260 Kb PDF)
Power Line Moved to Budget Debate (110 Kb PDF)
St. Albert power line move delayed
Province won’t back proposal (220 Kb PDF)
Council should take second look at power line move (196 Kb PDF)
“Human error” a big mistake
City Receives Powerful Advice (152 Kb PDF)
Council Acted Right (64 Kb PDF)
Power line part of a bigger picture
Power line relocation debate on hold
Unadopted minutes of St.Albert City Council, AltaLink funding item
Presentation made to St.Albert City Council
City Council Agenda Report: Altalink Funding (57Kb PDF)
Province, Altalink reject city’s plan (588 Kb PDF)
Plug Pulled on Power Line Deal (160 Kb PDF)
Reader Questions Grant Possibility For AltaLink Move
No money for power line
Council of the City of St. Albert decision not to support powerline relocation
Council Decision (1.4 Mb PDF)
St. Albert Environmental Advisory Committee
Bird death facts important
Number of dead birds shouldn’t factor into power line move
Number of bird deaths from power line collisions grossly overstated
Presentation made to the Environmental Advisory Committee to Council
Fish and Wildlife responds
Letter to Prime Minister, Premier, etc.
Bracko red-faced over line motion
St. Albert environmentalist Elke Blodgett says a proper environmental assessment would have prevented the power line’s placement near prime bird habitat
St. Albert Mayor responds to resident’s question about relocation of AltaLink line
The yearly migratory bird-killing season at Big Lake in St. Albert is upon us again
Funds holding up power line move
Lois Hole Provincial Park
Response to Nov 8 letter on power lines
High wire bird hazards fitted with lights
New reflectors for feathered friends
Power company looking at ways to keep feathered friends from flying into transmission lines
New tricks to keep birds from dying
Power companies need to take responsibility for the damage their lines are doing to birds
Power wires create a death trap for migratory birds headed into future park
Excerpt: EIA Report on West Boundary Road