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Minister reverses Owlseye road approval

Apr 01, 2014 11:45 am | Janice Huser

The County of St. Paul is reassessing its options regarding the construction of a road near the small community of Owlseye, following a hearing with the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board and a decision by the Minister of Environment to reverse an approval that would have allowed the county to build the road through a wetland.

After a failed mediation with residents who opposed the road to be constructed through the wetland in 2013, a hearing was held in late January of this year.

“The Board received and reviewed the written submissions, assessed the oral evidence and arguments presented at the hearing,” says the document released by the appeals board, which explains the decision to reverse the approval.

“The board recommended the approval be reversed. Of primary concern, the board found AESRD (Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) did not consider the requirements of the Provincial Wetland Restoration/Compensation Guide . . . The Guide requires a consideration of avoidance of the wetland, mitigation if the wetland cannot be avoided, and compensation when avoidance and mitigation cannot occur,” says the summary in the document.

“The application for the approval did not consider avoidance, only compensation, and AESRD did not ask for supporting information to explain why the wetland could not be avoided. At the hearing, the county stated the road needed to be built for public safety reasons and had to be built through the wetland because that was the location of the municipal right-of-way. However, the issue of public safety was not discussed or raised in the documents before AESRD when the approval was issued, and therefore could not have been considered by the director when he made his decision.”

County of St. Paul ratepayers Donna and Dave Hanson were among those who voiced opposition to the road being built through the wetland, along with other residents in the area. The decision made by the appeals board isn't only a victory for Lake 10, the wetland in question, but also for lakes and wetlands all over Alberta.

“It's a victory for all wetlands all over the province,” says Donna, adding, the decision should set precedence for other bodies of water in a similar situation.

County of St. Paul council discussed the issue In Camera at last week’s public works meeting, and is expected to discuss the issue at the April 8 regular council meeting. According to Kitz, the three options available to council are to do nothing and not proceed with the road, reapply for a new permit, or move toward a judicial review.

The road in question was added to the county’s strategic plan after other area ratepayers requested the road construction to Division 6 Coun. Frank Sloan. The proposed road would be constructed on a statutory road allowance, according to information received from County of St. Paul CAO Sheila Kitz.

The existing road in the area is a forced road that goes through the community of Owlseye and was not built to handle the type of traffic that is now being seen on the road, which includes a number of large trucks, said Kitz in a previous interview with the Journal.

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