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Mayor floats cut to public works salt monitoring

A budget cut proposed by the mayor related to the old public works yard could yield environmental fines from the province if passed. Council worked its way through a flurry of budget motions this week, many of which were related to the environment.

A budget cut proposed by the mayor related to the old public works yard could yield environmental fines from the province if passed.

Council worked its way through a flurry of budget motions this week, many of which were related to the environment.

One stand-out motion, which has yet to be debated, is a move by Mayor Nolan Crouse to cut a $30,000 business case to monitor salt pollution at the old public works yard from the funded list of next year's budget.

The city has monitored salt contamination at the old public works yard at 7 Riel Dr. since about 1999, says a report to council. Road salt from an old storage site has leached into the groundwater at levels above provincial and federal guidelines. Alberta Environment has given the city written direction to "control migration of salt from the historic area of impact to the river environment" to ensure it does not adversely affect the Sturgeon River.

The city now spends about $20,000 a year to monitor the site, says city environmental manager Leah Jackson, but Alberta Environment has asked them for an improved monitoring program. "We need to do a little more sampling based on the studies we've done."

The $30,000, most of which goes to lab tests, would fund that monitoring. This is a compliance issue, Jackson says. The city is legally obliged to do the monitoring and could face fines or enforcement actions from the province if it doesn't.

This proposed cut could open council up to major lawsuits and penalties, says Elke Blodgett, an environmentalist familiar with the salt issue. "Somebody doesn't know what they're doing."

Crouse says he is still researching his position on this motion.

Green motions

Council also voted this week to spend $12,000 to start collecting household hazardous waste at the city's recycling depot.

St. Albert has really bought into recycling, says Coun. Wes Brodhead, who made the motion, and this change lets residents drop their hazardous waste here instead of hauling it to Edmonton. "It's another enhancement to our recycling program."

Council also passed two motions on greenhouse gases. The first, from Brodhead, added $20,000 to the budget to create a greenhouse gas reduction plan for the city. Those funds will be matched by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) for a total of $40,000.

"It's easy to throw out a number," Brodhead says, referring to the city's recent decision to reduce its residential emissions by six per cent below 2008 levels by 2020, "but we have to know how to reach that number. This reduction plan will show city residents how they can reduce their emissions."

The second motion, from Coun. Cathy Heron, cut the funding for that plan to $15,000 ($30,000 including the grant). "If we're going to approve a target, I think we need to follow through on it," she says, but she wanted staff to try and do it for less.

Council also supported a motion from Coun. Len Bracko to cut the AltaLink power line relocation project from the city's unfunded list.

The city, province and AltaLink have long thought about moving the 138-kilovolt power line that currently stretches across Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park west of St. Albert because it kills birds. Such a move would cost about $1.05 million. AltaLink and the province have proposed to split the cost with the city, with the city chipping in $450,000. Council voted in 2008 to put the project on its unfunded list, which put the deal on hold.

The line move is now the province's responsibility, Bracko said in council. "It's up to them to make a decision about what happens with this. It's out of St. Albert's hands."

It's too soon to say how this would affect AltaLink's offer to move the line, said spokesperson Scott Schreiner, but they would have to rethink it. "We have to revisit the whole project."

Blodgett says she is "outraged" by the decision, adding it reflected badly on the city's green reputation. Leaving the line where it is would also put it right in front of the proposed interpretive centre for the park. "They're expecting thousands of children to come watch birds hit the line. To me, that is one educational experience we can do without."

Budget talks continue this week.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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