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Lac La Biche County disputes environmental fines

Appeal hearing set for May 5

LAC LA BICHE - Lac La Biche County will be appealing an $11,000 fine they've received from Alberta Environment and Parks.

The municipality, along with consultants from WSP Canada were issued three administrative penalties in July of last year for a 2018 road-widening project in the Elinor Lake area. Municipal officials have contested the penalties since they were first made aware of the allegations.

Citing breaches of the Water Act, representatives from the province's Environment and Parks department say the three fines are in relation to the construction, installation, maintenance and removal of a watercourse crossing, failing to minimize erosion within a wetland and failing to provide documentation to an AEP investigator.

The project that widened portions of the municipally-owned Elinor Lake Road took place during the summer of 2018 and according to planning documents, involved proximity to 36 wetland areas and four water course crossings. Permits and allowances for work in those areas were granted to the municipality by Alberta Environment and Parks.

According to documentation from the provincial department, three site visits by an Environmental Protection Officer during the project resulted in three contravention notices being issued.

The municipality disputes the fines.

Lac La Biche County's CAO Ken VanBuul says the appeal is being made to defend the municipality's work, environmental record and integrity.

"We wholeheartedly believe we did everything we were requested to do, before, during and after any interactions with Alberta Environment," said VanBuul, disputing all the allegations. "On this job and all others, we are not here to harm the environment in any way, shape or form."

While the $11,000 fine may seem like a relatively low penalty cost compared to headline-grabbing cases in recent months, VanBuul says it's more about the principle of the issue. He says while some outfits may see these kinds of things as a cost of doing business, the municipality and its partners pride themselves on their obligation as environmental stewards.

"We will defend ourselves," he said.

The Environmental Appeals Board hearing will take place on May 5 of this year. 

The appeals board is described as is a separate and independent body that reviews certain decisions made by Alberta Environment and Parks. The Board is composed of environmental experts from a variety of disciplines.

Gilbert Van Nes, the general counsel and settlement officer with the Environmental Appeals Board, says presentations from both sides will be made at the hearing as to whether the administrative penalty is appropriate and if the allegations hold merit.

"The board will then render a written decision within 30 days of the hearing," he said.

As is the case with these matters, the administrative fines have already been paid. A successful appeal of the process will result in a refund of the fines. 

This is the first time a Lac La Biche County matter relating to Alberta Environment and Parks violations has come before the Environmental Appeals Board, said Van Nes.