Time to move on power line

One day, hopefully soon, a bronze sculpture of Alberta’s late lieutenant governor will greet visitors to Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The Lois Hole statue will be unveiled this fall, but given a temporary home at city hall until a park entrance is developed. For now, a very different monument will continue to greet visitors to Lois Hole park – an unsightly 138-kilovolt power line near Big Lake.

Environmentalists say the AltaLink power line is responsible for up to 400 bird deaths a year and should be moved. Others, including the Hole family, say the line is a blight on the landscape unworthy of Hole’s memory or a future interpretive centre that’s being planned for the area.

Both arguments seek to protect the integrity of the wetlands and park, points city council should consider this fall during budget deliberations. Moving the power line is long overdue.

It’s been three years since the park was named after Hole and two years since the city entered into talks about moving the power line. Four alignment options exist – two of them cost $850,000 each to move the line east. Running the line along Riel Drive would cost $2.4 million, while burying it would cost up to $6 million.

AltaLink has pledged roughly $400,000 to move its line (a rare commitment for environmental concerns). Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture pledged $300,000 to chip in for the project.

We’re still waiting for the city’s commitment, if it happens. The previous council put the relocation into the 10-year capital plan, albeit on the unfunded list. That means it’s among $293 million worth of projects waiting in the queue for funds. Today’s council did little to advance the cause when it committed to make “a decision” regarding the power line, but hasn’t gone as far to say the line will be moved.

The city’s environmental advisory committee (EAC) is apparently tired of waiting. The EAC wants council to commit and we agree a decision is overdue. It would be one thing if the city was being asked to foot the entire bill, but money is already on the table.

Recent actions in council chambers suggest relocation is little more than lip service. Earlier in the spring, Coun. Len Bracko tried to use the power line relocation fund to offset tax increases. The only problem was the fund does not yet exist. Bracko defended his motion at the time, claiming the power line would still be an eyesore even if moved slightly east. He also said several local residents with environmental expertise told him relocation would not save birds.

Bracko’s bird argument defies what AltaLink’s own environmental advisor has said about the line and lethal bird strikes. Bracko has a point that relocation doesn’t eliminate the eyesore. It does, however, safeguard birds and moves the eyesore from the park’s entrance.

The longer council waits, the more expensive the fix. The relocation estimate has more than doubled in the last two years and that’s just for the cheapest option. If council can find extra millions for projects that serve the “public good” like Servus Place or the Riel Recreation Park, surely it can find the $300,000 to $800,000 to protect wildlife and improve a well used local green space.

Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park will be a key attraction for St. Albert in the years to come. A park entrance will bring visitors, as will the new home of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens across the street in South Riel. It’s time to ensure Lois Hole’s statue has a fitting home to watch over.

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Elke Blodgett