AUC Heartland Hearing – Day 12

April 28 started off with the Sherwood Park Fish and Game Association (SPFGA) cross examining the Applicants on their environmental assessment. The SPFGA questioned the adequacy of the Applicants’ aerial and road-side surveys. Aerial surveys for wildlife (primarily birds) were conducted inconsistently along the Applicants’ preferred route at varying elevations and in some cases at elevations where it was difficult or impossible to discern numbers and species of birds present. As well, road-side wildlife and habitat surveys were conducted subjectively and randomly along the Applicants’ preferred route in areas that were undulating and “hilly”, where it was difficult or impossible to see much of the landscape at all.

These inadequate aerial and road-side surveys of wildlife and wildlife habitat, coupled with the fact that pond and marsh water levels were abnormally low when these surveys were conducted (lowest in over 30 years), raise serious questions about the credibility and representativeness of the Applicants’ field surveys which served as a basis for subsequent biophysical evaluations.

The SPFGA questioned the Applicants’ consistent characterization of the wetlands and wetland complexes along the Applicants’ preferred route as “lower quality” and “not particularly important”, when in fact these wetlands are home to thousands of waterbirds and other wildlife that can be enjoyed by many people due to their proximity to urban areas and ready access. The Applicants did admit that rural residential properties (acreages) along the Applicants’ preferred route often provide good wildlife habitat.

Several examples of erroneously-labeled maps in the Applicants’ environmental assessment of their preferred route were pointed out (e.g., labeling a large block of land as cultivated land when it should have been labeled as “wetland” and important habitat for waterbirds which could easily crash into power lines and towers if an overhead Heartland line was built here). The Applicants responded that it was easy to make errors of this type, leading the SPFGA to ask how many additional errors of this type might there be in the Applicants’ facility application.

The SPFGA asked whether a buried Heartland line would see any impacts on wildlife (particularly birds) during the 40 to 60-year life of the line, compared to an overhead line which would cause bird mortality as widely reported in the literature. As part of their response, the Applicants agreed that an underground line could easily be staged which an overhead line could not (i.e., you can build part of an underground system today and easily add to it if more capacity is required in the future, whereas you must build an overhead line to its fully-anticipated capacity at initial construction). However, the Applicant stated that it was not worth it to bury the Heartland line, and that it was all about cost and economics. (Throughout the hearing to date, the Applicants have repeated how economics and cost are more important than addressing residents’ concerns about health, safety, environmental, aesthetic and property value impacts of an overhead line.)

In summary, and based on the inadequate wildlife and wildlife habitat surveys and errors in the environmental assessment, the SPFGA questioned the reliability of the Applicants’ route selection process.

In response to cross examination by the Colchester School Parents’ Association (CSPA), the Applicants indicated that in California they have designated minimum distances between schools and overhead high voltage power lines (in order to protect the health of children). (Here in Alberta there are no such minimum distances.) The CSPA asked how close to a school had a 500kV line the size of the Heartland line ever been built anywhere. Parents were also concerned because, following the 1987 tornado that ripped through Edmonton and followed 2 high voltage power lines, there was much public discussion about whether overhead high voltage lines actually attract tornadoes.

When asked if it was possible to bury the line by the school, the Applicants indicated it was too expensive, even though the Applicant admitted that residents and parents had clearly indicated they wanted the line buried. The CSPA stated that Colchester School was built long before the Sherwood Park Restricted Development Area was established by the Alberta Government, and therefore the line should be buried.

The City of Edmonton agreed with all of the concerns about the Applicants” preferred route raised by previous cross examiners. The Applicants agreed that taller towers, such as those proposed for the Heartland line, would be visible for greater distances (and therefore affect more people and property values). The City noted that every statistically significant property value impact noted in the facility application was a negative effect. Cross examination revealed that the Applicants’ property appraisal report prepared by Serecon Consulting Group really did not help determine anything important in relation to the proposed Heartland line. The consultants had not looked at appraisals in Edmonton near 500kV lines, had not reviewed appraisals near towers as tall as the proposed Heartland towers, had not reviewed impacts of a new power line in a corridor where there currently is no line or where there already are existing lines, etc.

When asked whether people’s perceptions about overhead power line health impacts mattered, the Applicants called this “low-quality” information.

The Applicants had repeatedly stated that none of their proposed towers would be built in the North Saskatchewan River valley along their preferred route. The City’s lawyer pointed out that, in fact, 7 towers would be built in the river valley (towers #79-#85). The Applicants also suggested that there were not a lot of birds in the North Saskatchewan River valley where the Applicants’ preferred route would cross the river. (In fact, this valley is a major migration route for thousands of birds, and in general is very important bird habitat, as are most major rivers the size of the North Saskatchewan River).

Under cross examination by Spruce Grove’s lawyer, the Applicants admitted that the entrances into municipalities are important (e.g., in relation to visitors’ first impressions). (Huge unsightly towers built at such entrances would certainly not give visitors a positive first impression.)  Spruce Grove’s lawyer also asked why monopole and underground options had not been included as part of the Applicants’ alternate route.

Two interveners asked the Applicants questions about impacts of the proposed Heartland line on their heliport and airstrip. In one case, a private airstrip would have to close down based on the proximity of a new overhead line. It became apparent that the Applicants had subjectively determined which airstrips and heliports along their preferred and alternate routes were considered “no-go” zones (i.e., the new power line would stay clear of these areas).

The Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta started cross examination of the Applicants and will continue on Day 13. Initial questions reveal just how closely AltaLink and the Alberta Electricity System Operator (AESO) work to plan which new high voltage lines get built and where. Both are involved very early in costing exercises, and it is difficult to distinguish between the system operator (AESO) and the transmission facility operator (AltaLink). (The AESO purports to be an agency independent of industry and the provincial government.)

~ by RETA on April 29, 2011.

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