The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has set a Feb. 15 deadline for residents to register as participants in a public hearing regarding ATCO's proposal to build a 240-kilovolt transmission line between Bonnyville and Bourque Lake.
The proposed transmission project prompted the AUC to hold two separate information sessions, the second of the two held at Willow Prairie Hall in LaCorey on Feb. 5, and both times informing residents affected by the proposed line on how they can make their concerns heard by taking part in the commission's review process and public hearing.
About 40 people attended the second session, including representatives from ATCO.
The proposed line continues to be a point of contention with the majority of residents attending the sessions, including those who attended both meetings – most residents noting concerns regarding proximity of transmission towers to homes and property, health concerns, as well as concerns over the tactics employed by ATCO representatives perceived by some residents to be “aggressive” and “underhanded”.
Paul van den Camp, ATCO's vice president of projects, said the company has been working with residents along the proposed routes for more than two years.
“We're continuously working with land owners to find a middle ground that can satisfy both parties.” He said he hopes to see the project approved by the AUC, but added the public hearing is an important part of the review process, allowing both sides to be heard.
The project's application includes two possible routes the line from Bonnyville to Bourque Lake could take.
Art Tapscott and his wife live along ATCO's “preferred route”. He said not only do they have health concerns related to their proximity to the proposed lines, they are afraid the location of the lines will drastically drop the value of the land in the area, including the value of their property, which was homesteaded by his wife's parents.
He is concerned that there is no way to be reimbursed retroactively for the loss of land value after the towers have been built.
But Tapscott said he feels even worse for some of the families situated even closer to the proposed line.
One mother at the session said the proposed line would come within 150 meters of her family's home, crossing right through their property.
“It doesn't matter what amount of money they offer any of us, it's not going to be enough to make up for what they are taking away,” said Tapscott.
Vic Kolody, who lives along the “alternate route”, said he is opposed to the project and upset at the tactics used by ATCO representatives and land agents to “pressure landowners into signing.
“They know exactly what they are doing. They are trying to pit us against each other.”
Kolody said if the project is approved, regardless of which route they chose, it will negatively affect those along the project's right-of-way.
Both Kolody and Tapscott, as well as others at the session, suggested ATCO use an alternate route to the west of its preferred route, along crown land. Others suggested using right-of-ways already part of the landscape due to pipeline construction.
Van den Camp said the company has looked into the western route, but came to the conclusion it was too expensive and more harmful to the environment.
During the session, some confusion arose regarding the maximum voltage that would be running through the transmission lines when at full capacity.
Van den Camp clarified; the lines will initially carry a 144-kilovolt load, before eventually reaching the lines maximum capacity load of 240 kilovolts.
He also suggested those with health concerns contact ATCO. He said the company would bring in experts to look at individual residents' concerns.
“As a corporation, we're not going to put people at risk,” said van den Camp.
Coming as a surprise to many in attendance, communication, both written and oral, between ATCO representatives and land owners remains private, unless the land owner specifically requests that ATCO release the communications to the AUC to become part of the public record.
Indra Maharaj, legal counsel for the AUC and the main presenter at both sessions, urged those who want to have the concerns or issues they raised with ATCO released and used in the upcoming public hearing, to send a letter of request to ATCO, which will require the company to release the documents.
She said a date for the public hearing has not been set, but that it would most likely take place at Willow Prairie Hall sometime in the spring.