By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Following two days of public hearings earlier in the month, the Regional Sub-division Appeal Board has made its decision regarding 10 permits that have been appealed regarding the proposed Halkirk 2 Wind Project, in the northwest corner of Paintearth County.
The Sub-division Appeal Board had been ordered by the Alberta Court of Appeals to re-hear the merits portion of the appeals process after the higher court determined that the previous board had erred in its decision to not allow the merits to be heard.
At the heart of the matter are 10 of 74 wind turbines that have been approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission and the County of Paintearth that have had their permits appealed, with the appellants citing a number of reasons.
In particular, the appellants appealed the permits on the grounds that the proposed turbines in question did not comply with several areas of the County’s Land Use Bylaw or the Municipal Development Plan.
In particular, the appellants cited that the location of the proposed towers would be inside Environmentally Sensitive Areas, on floodplains, that they fell inside the recommended setbacks for aerodromes, that they fell inside the setbacks dictated in the Land Use Bylaw, that they compromised resident safety, that they lacked sufficient remediation planning or bonds, and also that they would negatively impact road use.
The five-member board was comprised of people from around Central Alberta, though no member of the board was from within the County.
With the Court of Appeals decision guiding the process, the five members hosted two days of hearings at the County of Paintearth offices on July 16th and 17th, after a public meeting to determine the scope of the hearing early in June.
The guidance on scope issued by the Court of Appeals stated that, “The hearing is not to address any matters which were already decided by the AUC.”
After weighing the testimony of the appellants during the two days of hearings, the board has upheld all 10 of the permits issued by the development authority.
The board gave several reasons for their decision, which was released on July 24th.
Matters relating to the Environmentally Sensitive Areas were not weighed by the board. The board determined that, “The designation of Environmentally Significant Areas and floodplains varies at the provincial and municipal level,” and further that, “Landowners have their own view of Environmentally Significant Areas and floodplains based on their intimate knowledge of the land.”
The Board noted that none of the towers appeared to be in any designated areas according to the County in its Municipal Development Plan or Land Use Bylaw and that, “The AUC was not required to comply in any event.”
The Board determined that the matter was outside of what they were able to rule on.
Over the two days of the hearings, the Board also heard much discussion about an aerodrome in the area of the proposed project, and that under TP 1247, aerodromes should have a 4,000m setback to allow for air operations.
In the decision, the board said, “The board is not in a position to determine the effect of TP 1247 in the context of overlapping municipal, provincial, and federal regulatory schemes.”
The board determined that the AUC had ruled on the matter previously, noting that the AUC refused to hear additional submissions in regard to TP 1247.
The board also further noted that they were unable to change the location of wind turbines.
With the evidence at hand, the Board determined that the development permit applications were consistent with the AUC decision. The board further found no evidence that any of the towers were outside of the setbacks approved by the County’s Land Use Bylaw.
For the concerns of the safety impact of the project, the Board found that the AUC received, “Extensive submissions and concluded the safety concerns raised could be sufficiently mitigated by the commitments made by Capital Power,” therefore were not to be addressed by the hearing.
Concerning the matter of road use, the appellants requested that Capital Power enter into a Road Utilization and Development Agreement with the County of Paintearth prior to the start of construction, as well as pay a security bond to the County.
Citing no objection from Capital Power, the Board did agree to add this condition to the permits.
With the Board’s decision finding that all the permits were within the scope of the Alberta Utilities Commission approvals, and therefore upheld, the appellants have 30 days from the filing of the decision to file an appeal.