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Tag: MD of Pincher Creek

Pincher Creek RCMP

Collision closes Highway 6 near Twin Butte for 2 hours

Pincher Creek RCMP attended a severe motor vehicle collision on Highway 6, just south of Twin Butte this afternoon.

RCMP media relations said a semi burned and STARS was dispatched.

Highway 6 was closed in both directions for roughly two hours.

* This post was updated once RCMP confirmed the highway had reopened.

     | Follow up post Semi driver seriously injured in Highway 6 crash at Twin Butte

     | Read more Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass and area news here

 

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Jim Welsch, the new MD of Pincher Creek councillor, takes his seat at the table, representing District 4, his born-and-raised home.

Meet Jim Welsch, the new MD of Pincher Creek councillor

On May 2, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek welcomed a new councillor, Jim Welsch, for Division 4. Taking over a seat previously held by Harold Hollingshead, Welsch was the sole candidate at the close of the nomination period and took his oath of office at a special meeting on May 7.

“I lived in my division my entire life, and it’s just an opportunity to give back a little bit,” says Welsch.

Welsch has been involved in the municipal planning committee for six years, including time as chair, and presently chairs the Chief Mountain Gas Co-op board. He has also been chair of the 4-H beef committee, president of Porcupine Hills Stock Association and a member of the youth justice committee and the Community Auction Sales Association.

“All the boards and committees I’ve been on are kind of like a prerequisite for this councillor job,” he says. “You learn so much from that, and you can bring all that to this position.”

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Priorities emphasized in his campaign include road maintenance, more comprehensive law enforcement and vigilance to combat rural crime, and better coordination of firefighting with protection against undue cost for ratepayers.

He also stresses the importance of water with developing drought conditions, and the importance of renewable energy projects being done in a balanced manner.

 

Also read | MD to apply for funding for drought preparedness

 

Though Welsch has run for MD council before, he attributes the success of this byelection to campaigning more and connecting with people more. 

“I thought I knew everyone in my division. I lived there my entire life, but I was in for a big surprise,” he says. “There were a lot of people that I didn’t know.”

Welsch campaigned at about 60 houses and found the process very interesting.

“They appreciate the time and effort it takes to come and talk to them, and I think they reflect that on election day,” he says. 

Since joining council, Welsch has felt embraced by the environment and appreciates the work they do together. 

“Everyone’s been so warm and welcoming, the council and staff alike,” he says. “I’ve received a very warm welcome and I’m very appreciative for that.”

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

As a born-and-raised District 4 resident, Welsch comes to council with deep roots in the community and stakes in local and agricultural issues. 

“I love my job as a rancher and I like everything that goes along with it,” he says. “All the people and the whole big picture.”

Anna Welsch, president of the Oldman River Antique Equipment and Threshing Club, prepares for another year of growing food at Heritage Acres to support the community and bring people together through volunteering.

Heritage Acres Victory Garden grows hope for another year

On March 5, 2020, Anna Welsch woke up at 4:35 a.m. to her house burning down. In a time also defined by Covid lockdowns, layoffs and mass uncertainty, hope could be hard to come by. Seeing the struggles of others, while trying to manage her own, Welsch had an idea — victory gardens. 

Victory gardens were a wartime initiative that encouraged Canadian families to use green space to grow hearty food to send to troops overseas and to support their own homes during tumultuous economies. 

Welsch, now president of the Oldman River Antique Equipment and Threshing Club, which operates Heritage Acres Farm Museum, decided to bring this concept to the community, establishing a garden on a portion of the land in the agricultural museum in the MD of Pincher Creek.

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

Similar to the wartime mentality, the idea was “How can we help ourselves?” as the community faced job losses and grocery insecurity during the pandemic.

“We have found that the community has been super receptive of it,” Welsch says.

Volunteers would help grow food, and it would be donated to the local food bank, Napi Friendship Centre and the women’s shelter, where the food would directly help the community.

 

Also read | Pincher Creek volunteer restoring vandalized plaques

 

In 2020, the garden produced 1,000 pounds of potatoes and 300 pounds of carrots. Through 2020, 2021 and 2022, the garden produced well over 2,500 pounds of potatoes and 600 pounds of carrots.

This success came with the help of a strong group of core volunteers, according to Welsch. It was the perfect pandemic social activity — outside, six feet apart, planting and weeding to feed the community. 

“It could be a safe space for people’s mental health,” Welsch says. “You come play in the garden, play in the dirt, you can distance yourself safely at the time and still have a conversation.”

The garden encountered some challenges and did not produce in 2023. In 2024, the clay loam soil was too packed down and needed mulching. 

Heritage Acres made a request to MD council to provide assistance, which was granted and is now underway. 

“Our ultimate aim is to produce food,” Welsch says. “Agriculture centres around feeding the world.”

As part of an agricultural museum, this garden also created the opportunity to use historic equipment, like the early 1900s digger that’s used to plant, and teach the community more about food production. 

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In the future, Welsch would like to expand to include rhubarb and fruit trees in the garden. 

Heritage Acres is always looking for more volunteers to help weed, plant and maintain the garden. If you are interested in getting involved, email info@heritageacres.org.

Exposed water supply intake valves show very low levels in the MD of Pincher Creek in October 2023.

MD to apply for funding for drought preparedness

MD of Pincher Creek council will apply for a $1,825,000 grant from Alberta’s Drought and Flood Protection Program to apply retroactive funding toward the Oldman Reservoir low-level intake project. 

On Jan. 23, council approved $1.7 million in capital spending for the intake project. A pending application was also made to Alberta Municipal Water/Wastewater Partnership to help cover costs.

This potential additional funding from both applications could help to cover both the underway intake project and an assessment project. 

“I think there’s reason to be optimistic that we should at least receive the funding for the intake project,” said David Desabrais in his recommendation to council at the May 28 meeting.

The grant would allow council to investigate drought and water conditions further before making further major investments, including a potential raw water storage project. 

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

According to reports from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Calgary, Alberta is at risk of seeing significant drought conditions this summer, so preparing for drought conditions may become increasingly necessary for the region. 

The new application to Alberta’s Drought and Flood protection plan could cover up to 70 per cent of the costs if approved, and could be stacked with AMWWP funding.

According to Desabrais’s presentation, funding for drought assessment could include an assessment of the revised ability to meet 25-year requirements and susceptibility to severe multi-year drought. It could also include investigatory work, storage options and cost estimates. 

With provincial drought funding, the MD would also be encouraged to notify any potentially affected parties of their application for a specified project.

 

 

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Related | Alberta’s water crisis is just beginning

Related | MD creates makeshift solution for water supply

Related | MD confirms water in Crowsnest River despite media reports

 

 

 

 

AltaLink wildfire preparation tips for Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass including reduction of power line impact, power shutoff and emergency preparedness.

Wildfire safety procedures from AltaLink

MD of Pincher Creek councillors reviewed an AltaLink wildfire safety publication at their May 28 meeting, examining what the safety procedures may look like in the case of a wildfire.

To care for yourself and your loved ones, the electricity transmission company recommends creating an emergency plan and kit with supplies for at least 72 hours. This should take into account any medical needs. 

AltaLink notes that it is also important to ensure your electricity company has up-to-date contact information so you can easily receive alerts.

With more frequent wildfires across the province, AltaLink has implemented fire-prevention and mitigation policies, such as enhanced vegetation clearing around power lines and increased inspections. 

A public-safety power shut-off may occur as a last-resort safety measure if there are extreme and dangerous weather conditions. Power may then be shut off until conditions are safe, with advanced and regular notice provided when possible.

“With wildfires becoming more frequent and intense, AltaLink’s highest priority is protecting your community while providing safe, reliable power,” the publication says.

For more information and wildfire safety and preparedness, visit AltaLink online.

 

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Also read: Be FireSmart: Reduce home wildfire risks

 

 

 

Map showing the proposed location of the Captus Generation CCS Hub in the MD of Pincher Creek.

Pincher Creek may see new energy plant

Captus Generation is looking to build a natural gas-firing plant with incorporated carbon capture and sequestration in the MD of Pincher Creek.

The hub would be constructed on land purchased in Division 1 of the MD of Pincher Creek, situated directly above a depleted natural gas reservoir with wells travelling over three kilometres below the ground.

Captus Generation is a new company, established in December as a subsidiary of BTG Energy, a Calgary-based gas-firing energy company, with a plant established in Sylvan Lake. This new project would be a joint venture between BTG Energy and Westlake Petroleum.

Captus executive vice-president Mark Taylor says this project is really all about the location.

“There was a great location out here, because all the things you needed for a natural gas-fired power plant with carbon sequestration all lay in exactly the same spot,” he says.

The 850 acres of land purchased by Captus are near existing gas lines and the Pieridae Waterton Gas Plant, facilitating easy gas uptake. The already existing infrastructure would allow Captus to put energy onto the Alberta grid using nearby transmission lines.

The depleted gas reservoir below would allow for storage of captured carbon from generation emissions.

 

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The proposed hub would consist of two general electric turbines, akin to jet engines on the ground, which would burn local gas. The carbon dioxide would then be captured, compressed and pushed back underground.

Between the 1950s and early 2000s, the site was operated as a Gulf Canada sour gas plant, with 18 wells drilled into a thick cap rock below. At the time, it was the largest single reservoir of wet natural gas found, according to a Government of Alberta tourism site.

The now-depleted reservoir held natural gas for millions of years prior to exploitation, making Captus confident that it can hold carbon effectively once again.

“We don’t need to build lots of pipelines to get the CO2 to where we want to put it in the ground,” says Taylor. “That saves money but it also reduces disturbance with the local community.”

According to the company, the plans to capture emissions would allow Captus to generate 24-7 carbon-neutral electricity.

“The technologies are there, what’s challenged everybody is the economics,” says Taylor, noting that companies trying to incorporate carbon capture without infrastructure from the onset to facilitate it face challenges trying to gather carbon from all over in an economically feasible way.

 

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Once injected into the reservoir, below cap rock more than three kilometres underground, the company would be able to monitor pressure to ensure carbon stays down.

This depth keeps carbon dioxide kilometres below the water used for human consumption and agriculture, and far from the atmosphere.

Keeping carbon out of the atmosphere would help to slow the progression of the greenhouse effect of gases, including CO2, warming the planet’s overall temperature in recent years.

“If there was no government price on carbon, obviously there would be no economic benefit for capturing carbon dioxide,” says Taylor. But with the tax incentive and the proximity of infrastructure, Captus is confident that it can execute carbon capture without sacrificing revenue.

“It definitely stands out amongst the 26 projects that have been approved for evaluation in the province so far, because I’d say we’re one of maybe two that are actually economic at today’s prices,” he says.

Taylor spent five years as vice-president of operations at the Alberta Energy Regulator, and believes this project is relatively unique in the possibilities for clean energy generation from gas.

 

 

Currently, the project’s team is undergoing a consultation process, looking to make the final investment decision to go ahead with the project in early 2025, after which regulatory applications and equipment procurement would follow. The first energy is anticipated in 2029.

In a May 23 community information session, Taylor and Captus senior director Paul Connolly presented the project’s specific details to local stakeholders.

“Our vision is to bring carbon neutral power with carbon sequestration to Pincher Creek,” said Connolly. “There’s a lot of infrastructure that we hope to leverage into a successful project.”

The operating aim of the facility would be to capture 95 per cent of emissions, just under 900,000 tonnes of carbon a year.

The two generators would together generate around 200 megawatts of electricity, with roughly 170 for the grid and 30 used for carbon capture.

“We firmly believe that if this project doesn’t go ahead, there will be no other projects like it go ahead,” said Connolly. “This is such a robust opportunity.”

The Captus team also believes this opportunity would advantage the local community, largely in municipal tax revenue that has been seeing less of an oil and gas-based contribution in recent years, and in skilled jobs that would emerge from the site.

“We’re very cognizant of the fact that the opportunity that we see here will help drive a number of positive benefits to the community, and, frankly, for the province,” said Connolly.

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

The Quest Smart Energy Communities Benchmark report highlighted Pincher Creek’s multi-sectoral team driving community energy goals, community organizations, ongoing energy and emissions work, landfill diversification and walking paths as strengths in the region.

Energy report gives recommendations, Pincher Creek council to pursue

The Town and MD of Pincher Creek underwent a baseline survey to understand the current state of affairs within the region with respect to energy, where the region scored 43 per cent. Following the receipt of this report in the May 13 town council meeting, council decided to begin to act on opportunities communicated.

The Quest Smart Energy Communities Benchmark report highlighted Pincher Creek’s multi-sectoral team driving community energy goals, community organizations, ongoing energy and emissions work, landfill diversification and walking paths as strengths in the region.

However, key opportunities identified for improvement are public engagement on energy use, land management and energy-water relationships, community energy inventory and mapping, staff training for climate resiliency, energy load management, financial levers for densification and community-wide economic analysis.

Mayor Anderberg noted in the meeting that he was pleased with the performance of Pincher Creek on the municipal front, highlighting significant energy savings and upgrades in facilities.

He saw the biggest gaps in the public-facing aspects of the report. Some areas of improvement outlined are accountability to social equity, educational sessions and planning, and further public engagement on matters of energy, land use, water and mobility networks.

 

Also read | TransAlta’s energy project cancellations: Victory for some, blow for others

 

Specific recommendations in the report called for better public engagement and public participation on nearly every front.

Anderberg also referenced the low scores around partnerships with utility companies. In regard to community energy strategy, Quest called on Pincher Creek Quest to “activate and operationalize the established partnership between the community, local utility, and community-based organizations to expedite the provision of energy and climate adaptation/resilience initiatives investments.”

According to the presentation of Quest to council, the report outlines the importance of programs the region is implementing such as the corporate emissions and energy reduction strategy and the Clean Energy Improvement Program to support homeowners with energy and resiliency retrofits.

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Further work in the Quest program will address some of the opportunities for improvement. Quest will conduct a community workshop on energy and emissions and an economic assessment.

According to council documents, this process is expected to run until March 2025, with the bulk of work coming in the summer of 2024. The budget for completing the project is about  $6,000, and the work will culminate with Pincher Creek receiving a new score.

“It’s a fantastic report. And if we just accept it as information, it will disappear onto the shelf,” said Coun. Wayne Oliver.

“I would like it if administration would bring back some suggestions for things we can adopt, implement and improve on, to get a better score next time.”

Oliver moved the motion that council direct administration to bring back specific items from the opportunities to pursue, which was carried.

 

Row of windmills near canola field in the MD of Pincher Creek with mountains in the background

Hay permit changes in MD of Pincher Creek

The MD of Pincher Creek is altering its hay permitting process for the coming spring.

The permits, which allow for grass harvesting on the sides of municipal roads and rights-of-way, are traditionally issued in June. This year, however, applications will be taken in May.

“We had a landowner approach us back in January asking us to consider changing the dates,” says Jessica McClelland, the MD’s communications director.

“What they found last year was that by the time they had their permit the hay was almost burnt. So to allow for longer cutting and an earlier season, we bumped the dates up.”

 

 

As is customary, adjacent landowners have the first chance at applying for permission to hay near their property. They’ll need to do so by May 15, though, as a day later, on May 16, it can be permitted to someone else.

“As part of the policy changes, we’re asking that haying not be performed during a local fire ban. We’re also now requiring proof of $2 million in vehicle liability insurance, which will need to be brought in with the permit application,” McClelland says.

“The reason for that is if you’re operating along a municipal roadway, we want to ensure that the person is covered for any incidentals, like a rock hitting a windshield, for example.”

Information on the process and how to apply can be found online at bit.ly/3TxJzND.

 

 

Three white envelopes blow in the wind in front of an open grey mailbox

Alberta’s water crisis is just beginning

In the past week, Albertans have been confronted with a triple whammy of water crises.

On Feb. 20, the Government of Alberta declared the start of wildfire season, 10 days earlier than the usual March 1 start due to this season’s warm temperatures, which have been compounded by the fact that large parts of Alberta are under severe or extreme drought.

On Feb. 23, the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta was reported to have run dry upstream of Cowley. (The claim was later disputed, with the halted water flow being blamed on ice buildup.) The Crowsnest River is a tributary to the Old Man, which has seen record-low river levels and extremely low reservoir levels this year.

While many Albertans were astonished by these two announcements, the Alberta Energy Regulator also announced in an internal letter that it had accepted initial applications and is open to public hearings for the controversial Grassy Mountain coal mine on the Eastern Slopes, a project which has already been turned down twice. An application for a water diversion licence has been submitted to AER.

What does the potential coal mine have to do with water? Coal mines use 250 litres of fresh water and about 750 litres of recycled water per tonne of coal produced. According to estimates, Grassy Mountain will divert 1.125 billion litres of fresh water per year from the Old Man watershed.

Though they appeared as separate stories, this past week’s news demonstrates the interrelatedness of our crises. Alberta is experiencing a critical water shortage, and action is needed immediately.

 

 

We need a new holistic approach to water in this province that looks at the cumulative impacts and interconnections between water usage and water shortage. This holistic approach also needs to consider the role of climate change in driving both increased water usage and drought.

The Government of Alberta has taken some steps to tackling our water crisis by creating a new drought advisory committee earlier this month. This committee, however, poorly represents the diversity of stakeholders and communities impacted by drought. Specifically, it does not include the communities most impacted. Alarmingly, this committee does not include water and/or drought researchers. 

The lack of scientists is troubling but not surprising considering the GOA’s acceptance of recent recommendations to consider “non-scientific evidence during an emergency.” Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has failed to mention the impact of climate change on Alberta’s long-term droughts. Instead she blamed El Niño, a periodic system associated with warm dry weather, even while a group of scientists in her very department published research warning of extreme drought in Alberta due to global warming.

The GOA has also started, as of Feb. 1, unprecedented negotiations with Alberta’s current water licence holders, who operate under a “first in time, first in right” system. But all negotiations are occurring behind closed doors, with no indication of whether changes in water licensing are forthcoming.

Alberta needs an independent water board that has teeth and the ability to make policy, licensing and emergency decisions, apart from both the GOA and AER. An independent water board would guarantee both transparency and the more substantial inclusion of stakeholders, communities and experts than we see currently.

 

 

An independent water board could not only manage the province’s water licenses and complex water license transfer system, but also include Indigenous communities, industry, agriculture, tourism, scientists, wildfire specialists, as well as a limited number of municipal and provincial government members. 

There is already a precedent for independent water boards in Canada, in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, where water co-governance is mandated by modern treaties. While these systems too have limitations, they could be built and improved upon.

The GOA already greatly benefits from its partnership with the Alberta Water Council, Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils and Watershed Stewardship Groups, according to the GOA’s Water for Life Strategy. Why not provide these collaborators the opportunity to act directly and authoritatively through an empowered water board?

If water really is “a life source” as the GOA describes it, all Albertans should be taking a much more active role in its governance than they have been allowed to do. It is time that Albertans get serious about our water because the consequences of our water crises are just getting started.

Sabrina Perić

Energy anthropologist, associate professor at the University of Calgary, and co-director of the Energy Stories Lab

 

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

MD of Pincher Creek temporary pumping station

MD confirms water in Crowsnest River despite media reports

The Crowsnest River has not run dry, although councillors and staff with the Municipal District of Pincher Creek have kept busy in recent weeks refuting a number of media reports saying otherwise.

“Our [water] intakes are constructed right near where the Crowsnest River historically passes, which is at the bed of the Oldman Reservoir,” says the MD’s utilities and infrastructure supervisor, David Desabrais.

“The river certainly has not been dry at any point during this water crisis. We’ve been pulling water from the Crowsnest River daily since at least Jan. 2. So, certainly not a dry river.”

Last August, the MD made the decision to institute a Stage 2 water restriction. Days later, levels on the nearby Oldman River dropped to historical lows — the level falling below the two intake valves that would otherwise collect the water supply. At this point the restriction was increased to Stage 3.

As a stopgap measure, MD council decided to truck in water, through the late summer and fall, to keep taps running with the intakes unable to do their job. This came with a high price tag — nearly $1 million at last count.

In late December, with water still near its intake, a temporary pumping station was set up on the river north of Cowley to provide a lion’s share of the MD’s water source. It will be dismantled once expected water levels return to the Crowsnest River.

“We’re making about two-thirds of our volume right now through the pumping setup that’s essentially hanging over the edge of the river,” Desabrais says. “Every morning our third-party contractor goes in and if there’s any ice will break it up as required.”

Once lowered into the river, the submersible pump goes through a series of processes before eventually ending up in the existing plant.

 

 

“The water goes through a clarification/settling tank for minor treatment before we send it farther. It then goes through a filtering setup inside the nearby sea can,” Desabrais says.

“From there, it goes directly into our intake pipe, our existing piping and into our water treatment plant.”

Although far less than before, the remaining one-third or so of the water needed to keep tanks full at the plant is still being trucked in.

“We are still supplementing our levels every day with potable water,” he says. “There’s a few contractors in the town of Pincher Creek that have water hook-ups within their shops and they’re trucking out water directly to our plant every day to start in the morning.”

But Desabrais and the MD know the current situation is only temporary.

“We’ve looked at a ton of options for securing our long-term water needs,” Desabrais says.

“We’ve submitted all of our regulatory approvals for a project to build new infiltration structures that would be located sub-surface near our existing intakes, about 300 metres to the west on the bed of the Oldman Reservoir.”

If approved, two buildings would house a new framework of pipes, which Desabrais says would be hydraulically connected to the Crowsnest River underground and could still draw water during periods of drought.

“From there,” he says, “we would pump it up to our intake building, which is located about 700 metres to the southwest, which our existing intakes go to.”

While some permits for the proposed project have been granted, Desabrais says the MD is still waiting on seven others before work can begin.

Once all approvals are final, the hope is to break ground as early as the end of March.

 

 

 

Wind turbines near Pincher Creek

Pause on renewable energy proposals lifted, new rules put in place

While not fully closing off any new applications for renewable energy projects from being submitted since last August, the Alberta government announced last week that it was ending a seven-month hold on their approvals, effective Feb. 29.

“Alberta is Canada’s leader in renewable energy. In fact, as much as 92 per cent of the renewables investment in Canada that happened in 2023 happened in Alberta,” Premier Danielle Smith said at a Feb. 28 news conference.

“Our unique deregulated electricity market and competitive tax mean we are Canada’s hub for investment, but growing our renewable energy industry must happen in well-defined and responsible ways. That wasn’t happening.”

But, although it lifted the moratorium, the province also announced a new set of guidelines that the industry will need to follow moving forward.

While the list of new rules is fairly lengthy, there were some points that stood out after the release of the AUC’s Module A Report.

Leading the most notable is a decision to not allow any future developments on Class 1 and 2 lands unless the proponent (applicant) can demonstrate the ability for crops and/or livestock to coexist with the project.

Class 1 is defined as “soils with no significant limitations in use for crops” while Class 2 is “soils with moderate limitations that restrict the range of crops or require moderate conservation practices.”

“Our goal is to ensure that Alberta’s electricity grid is reliable, affordable and sustainable for future generations to come,” said Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf in his statement to reporters.

“However, the rapid, unrestricted growth [of renewable energy projects] raised concerns that needed to be addressed. As a responsible government, we will not kick that can down the road for someone to deal with. We are committed to a clear and responsible path forward for energy development.”

But, Alberta’s Opposition NDP critic for energy, Nagwan Al-Guneid, is questioning why the process for approving applications was stopped back in August.

 

 

“Government must always improve regulations. This is their duty. This is their job. They did not need to impose a seven-month moratorium,” Al-Guneid said to Shootin’ the Breeze.

“That’s sending a chilling message to global investors and it was done without zero consultation to renewable energy companies and the generators, as well. It’s unacceptable to treat big companies trying to invest here in Alberta,” Al-Guneid said.

“This is a dent in our investment reputation.”

When asked if there was anything she felt was good in the new regulations, the MLA for Calgary-Glenmore termed the guidelines as very vague.

“I think the vague was more than clear, to be honest with you. So, pristine viewscapes … I think that was extremely confusing. What does that even mean?”

Among the projects impacted by the pause were proposals involving wind, solar, geothermal, hydro or bio-gas technologies.

With the new regulations, the province has pledged to establish the tools necessary to ensure Alberta’s native grasslands, irrigable and productive lands continue to be available for agricultural production.

Municipalities, such as the MD of Pincher Creek, will have more active engagement in the permitting process, with the automatic right to participate in AUC hearings and eligibility to request cost recovery for participating.

“You know, it addresses some of our concerns,” Reeve Dave Cox responded.

“We have a concern about taking our agricultural land out of production. We also have a concern about accountability after the life of a project ends.”

 

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In its reclamation component, the province stated that developers will be responsible for the eventual cleanup, either through a bond or security.

The reeve said he’s waiting for more details about proposed buffer zones that will be established around protected areas and other pristine viewscapes — that determination to be made by the government.

“I think it’s actually a pretty important first step to resolving some of these land use conflicts that exist in our area,” said Bobbi Lambright, communications co-ordinator with the Livingstone Landowners Group.

“As an organization, we’ve obviously been really concerned about things like our watershed management, native prairie preservation … even our very iconic scenic and recreational landscapes, and one of the challenges that I think we’ve been experiencing over the last number of years has been the concentration of proposed development in this area.”

Lambright, though, is not singling out just renewable energy or coal mining per se.

“There really isn’t a clear land use policy guideline. There’s been lots of work done on it, but projects seem to be addressed one by one.”

In August, when it was decided to hold off on approving any new projects, Premier Danielle Smith said there were 13 projects in the queue — that figure last week, she said, had doubled to 26.

“We need to ensure we’re not sacrificing our future agricultural yields, or tourism dollars, or breathtaking viewscapes to rush renewable developments through,” she added.

 

 

Below is a summary of policy changes unveiled in the AUC’s Module A report, released Feb. 28:

Agricultural lands

—The AUC will take an “agriculture first” approach when evaluating the best use of agricultural lands proposed for renewables development.

—Alberta will no longer permit renewable generation developments on Class 1 and 2 lands unless the proponent can demonstrate the ability for crops and/or livestock to coexist with the renewable generation project.

—Alberta’s government will establish the tools necessary to ensure Alberta’s native grasslands, irrigable and productive lands continue to be available for agricultural production.

Reclamation security

—Developers will be responsible for reclamation costs via bond or security. The reclamation costs will either be provided directly to the Alberta government or may be negotiated with landowners if sufficient evidence is provided to the AUC.

Viewscapes

—Buffer zones of a minimum of 35 kilometres will be established around protected areas and other “pristine viewscapes” as designated by the province.

—New wind projects will no longer be permitted within those buffer zones.

—Other proposed developments located within the buffer zone may be subject to a visual impact assessment before approval.

Crown lands

—Meaningful engagement will be required before any policy changes for projects on Crown land and would not come into effect until late 2025.

—Any development of renewable development on Crown lands will be on a case-by-case basis.

Transmission regulation

—Changes to Alberta’s Transmission Regulation are expected in the coming months as the engagement process continues. Renewable projects should expect changes in how transmission costs are allocated.

Municipalities

—Automatically grant municipalities the right to participate in AUC hearings.

—Enable municipalities to be eligible to request cost recovery for participation.

—Allow municipalities to review rules related to municipal submission requirements while clarifying consultation requirements.

 

 

Backhoe at water pumping station on the Crowsnest River near Pincher Creek

MD creates makeshift solution for water supply

After a summer and fall where its water needed to be trucked in to keep the taps flowing, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek has created a temporary solution it hopes will get it through the winter and, possibly, into the spring.

The MD has set up a pumping station at the site of its water intake valves on the Crowsnest River, north of Cowley.

“It’s actually pumping water to one of our existing intake pipes,” explained Reeve Dave Cox.

“It’s not a big system. The intake pipes are about six inches in diameter and the system that pumps into one of those pipes is about 2½ inches in diameter.”

Utilities and infrastructure manager David Desabrais confirmed siphoning is carried out only during the daytime right now.

“We don’t have any raw water storage. All of our storage is on the treated water side,” he said. “Every day our goal is essentially, during working hours, to top up all of our rural water reservoirs before night.”

The process is then repeated the next day. Depending on demand by MD residents, water trucks may still need to be used to keep the reservoirs full.

In a perfect world, the idea might be a potential long-term fix, but it can’t be because of the system’s location on the river.

The pumping station “will definitely need to come out in the spring,” Cox emphasized. “It’s kind of inside the floodplain of the dam. It’s only there until we start to get high water.”

 

 

The question remains, though, will we see a significant spring melt from mountain snow packs and, if not, can the pump station stay in place a little longer? The answer is yes.

But, “because it’s such a historic event, it’s tough to say, for sure, when [a rise in river levels] might occur,” Desabrais acknowledged.

“Typically, the reservoir doesn’t do its big fill until June, so that’s what we’re anticipating,” he said. “You never know. It could get messy down there earlier or there could also be a case where we get a terrible snowpack and we’d be in a position to continue using that setup further into the summer.”

“This is really a band-aid, for lack of a better word, to cut down on what it costs us to truck water,” Reeve Cox added.

“This is a way cheaper solution than what we were doing when it was all trucking. The trucking hasn’t been totally eliminated because there’s still some issues with water turbidity, and so we still have to augment the system with trucking.”

Is there a potential long-term fix? The answer to that is also yes.

“We’re working towards looking at a third intake near the existing two intakes,” Desabrais said. “They would, essentially, be tapped into the Crowsnest River aquifer. We wouldn’t actually be boring under the river, but connected hydraulically.”

The aquifer, which Desabrais pointed out isn’t a new source, is located just upstream from the current water intake valves and near where the old highway bridge was constructed.

He said if everything, including council and regulatory approval, falls into place, work could begin soon.

 

 

Map of Alberta showing fire advisory for MD of Pincher Creek Area

Fire danger rating lowered, thanks to recent rain

For the second time this month, the fire danger rating in the town and MD of Pincher Creek has been lowered.

In early September, a ban in place for most of the summer was eased to a fire restriction.

“On Saturday the 21st we downgraded it, again, to a fire advisory with the rain and conditions having improved,” fire Chief Pat Neumann tells Shootin’ the Breeze.

Unlike August, though, when almost all the month’s rain fell during an Aug. 30 thunderstorm, this month’s moisture has been spread out, allowing the vegetation to green up.

But, Neumann warns, conditions can change on a dime.

“So, what a fire advisory allows people to do is have recreational firepits with a permit. It also allows us to issue debris burn permits or notification of burn for residents within the MD.”

It’s also important to note that the district may not necessarily have the final say on where fires are allowed.

 

 

“One of the things that makes our MD unique is a protected forest area, which resides mostly on the western edge that is governed under forestry guidelines,” Neumann says.

“So, what that means is they need to pay attention to what Alberta Forestry posts in regards to fire restrictions and fire bans, and currently we don’t have any.”

As we move into the first full week of fall, Neumann is thankful for one thing: the quiet fire season the area has enjoyed.

“Given the conditions we had elsewhere in the province, the Northwest Territories and B.C., there was an awful lot of media education, making sure people understood the risks and hazards of the landscape.”

People are pretty understanding when it comes to having some freedoms taken away, he says, referring to the long-standing tradition of families gathering around a campfire, something that couldn’t happen this past summer.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of man-made fires started within the rural landscape this year and that’s really a testament to people actually paying more attention to the conditions.”

Full updated details on fire bans for the MD are posted online at www.pincherfire.ca. There, you’ll also find information on fire bans from around the province as well as how to apply for burn and firepit notifications.

 

harvested yellow field with mountains in the background

Farmers hoping for much-needed relief

To say it’s been a tough year for producers in southwestern Alberta might be considered a huge understatement, but it has.

A lack of measurable rain since spring and now a surge in the grasshopper population is hitting farmers twice as hard.

On Aug. 8, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek made the rare move of declaring an agricultural disaster.

This follows a recommendation by its agricultural fieldman and service board, and was rubber-stamped at a special council meeting, also held on the same day.

“Municipal declarations do not automatically trigger access to increased funding programs, provincially or federally,” noted the MD in a statement posted on its website. “It’s rather intended to bring attention to other levels of government on where support is needed for producers.”

To date, the Alberta government has not made any provincewide designation.

Reeve Rick Lemire, a cattle producer himself, doesn’t recall such a declaration being made in recent memory.

“About a month ago, it was brought up. Should we be looking or monitoring this? Since that time, we, as a council, have had phone calls from producers saying it’s time — we’re in sad shape here,” said Lemire. “So we called the special meeting and went over the facts that our ag fieldman provided us.”

 

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Some feedback included situations of stock being sold with a dwindling grass supply and the need and cost to have water hauled in. Lemire knows all too well about those same hurdles, with two of his three dugouts completely dry.

Add to that, the latest wrinkle — grasshoppers.

“What little crop they might have had to cut for feed is being destroyed and all of that within the last month. Grasshoppers come in cycles and this is (their) year,” Lemire continued.

“And, next year could be worse because they’ve come in such large numbers. I know of at least a few producers in the MD that have sprayed their crops twice this year, and if you don’t control it, there’s nothing left.”

According to the MD, drought conditions have impacted 50 to 90 per cent of crops, pasture and range yields, pointing to a lack of spring and in-season moisture combined with long durations of high temperatures and winds.

Figures from Environment and Climate Change Canada show no measurable precipitation for Pincher Creek in the first 10 days of August.

In all, close to two dozen MDs and counties have already made the declaration, including neighbouring Cardston County on July 16, and the list is sure to grow if the dry, hot conditions continue.

Liz Dolman, a middle-aged woman with long, straight, blonde hair, sits at a table collecting petition signatures

Borrowing bylaw for curling rink petitioned

A petition circulating in Pincher Creek could upset council’s plan to build a new curling rink, according to an administration report in council’s March 27 agenda. 

The petition, launched by town resident Elizabeth Dolman on March 17, aims to block the passage of a borrowing bylaw for a multi-million-dollar construction loan, pending a referendum on the loan, Dolman told Shootin’ the Breeze

“We don’t have enough information [about the curling rink project],” Dolman said, questioning the potential tax implications and calling for more attention to other civic priorities, namely housing

“Curling is a wonderful thing, … but people can’t move here for jobs because there’s no place to live. The town’s known this for at least 20 years, and they’ve made plans here and there. But they haven’t done anything yet,” she continued. 

 

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The petition is the latest development in a long-running and hotly contentious debate about whether or not to build a new rink and where to build it. 

Whatever might be said of the project, the town’s existing curling rink at 837 Main St. is at the end of its working life, according to structural studies dating back at least to 2008. The rink is run by the Pincher Creek Curling Club, at the club’s expense. The club has around 150 members, roughly evenly split between the town and MD of Pincher Creek, according to outgoing president Glenda Kettles.   

Council on Feb. 13 narrowly passed a resolution to build a new rink at the Community Recreation Centre at 942 Hyde St., to be renamed the CRC and Events Centre if the build goes ahead. The borrowing bylaw, still before council, was given the first of three readings at chambers on Feb. 27. 

Second and third readings are not listed on council’s March 27 agenda. 

 

Pincher Creek holds approximately $3.5 million in debt as of the new year — roughly $1.85 million for the town’s early learning centres and around $1.65 million for Pincher Creek RCMP’s current headquarters at 1369 Hunter St., according to finance director Wendy Catonio

That burden represents just under one quarter of the town’s approximately $15 million allowable debt limit, which the Municipal Government Act caps at 150 per cent of a municipality’s most recent annual revenue. For context, Catonio said the town’s current debt load is unremarkable compared to regional municipalities. 

If passed, the borrowing bylaw would authorize council to take out a loan for up to $4 million in estimated construction costs for the curling rink build. The town would then be obligated to pay down whatever amount it draws on the loan. 

The town has meanwhile applied for a federal grant that could cover up to 60 per cent of the build. Tristan Walker, the town and neighbouring MD’s energy project lead, said he hoped for a decision by the grant funder sometime this summer. 

 

Town council in 2017 committed $1.25 million to match the curling club’s hoped-for grant through the province’s Community Facility Enhancement Program. The CFEP grant didn’t come through, and council has included the $1.25 million commitment in subsequent budgets. 

The $1.25 million was always intended to be financed through a loan rather than the town’s capital reserves, Catonio explained.

Coun. Mark Barber, a longtime supporter of the build, told council last month that the curling club would contribute $200,000 through fundraising efforts, adding that the club would donate its ice plant, which Barber said was worth $500,000. 

Barber also said the MD would probably kick in some money. Reeve Rick Lemire later told the Breeze that MD council discussed that possibility in a joint session with town council, but the MD hasn’t made any financial commitments. 

 

In order to be successful, Dolman’s petition would have to satisfy a number of conditions listed in the MGA.

Petitions to council need signatures from 10 per cent of municipal residents, which amounts to roughly 360 people in Pincher Creek, according to the 2021 census. 

The petition would have to come to Angie Lucas, the town’s new chief administrative officer, no later than March 30. Lucas would then have 45 days to decide if the petition satisfies the Act’s requirements. 

If the petition holds up, council would have to either scrap the curling rink build or put the borrowing bylaw to a town referendum. If the petition fails, council could pass the borrowing bylaw and move ahead with the project, according to Lucas’s latest report to council.  

 

Lucas has recommended that council receive for information an explainer at chambers Monday evening about the petition process.

Few of the project’s vital details have been made public as of Friday afternoon, including a detailed cost estimate, according to an FAQ page on the town’s website.

The curling club owns the existing rink, while the town owns the land on which it sits. There is no plan for what happens at the old curling rink after the building comes down,  nor information about the financial implications for the town and tax implications for residents, the FAQ page explains. 

The curling club did not respond to a request for an interview before Shootin’ the Breeze published this story online on Friday afternoon. 

 

Roughly 170 people had signed Dolman’s petition to that point. Dolman has said she will continue to collect signatures at Ranchland Mall over the weekend. 

Kettles said Friday that the curling club has so far raised around $100,000 toward the new rink.

Wayne Oliver, man with short grey hair and glasses wearing a blue vest, points to a Riplinger project map and speaks to Rick and Blanche Lemire.

Town councillor under fire over TransAlta info session

A Pincher Creek councillor who works for an electricity wholesaler is the subject of a complaint that he was in a conflict of interest when he participated in a recent public information session hosted by his employer. 

Wayne Oliver, now in his second term on town council, said he’s worked for TransAlta Corp. for 18 years. As the company’s Wind Operations Supervisor for Western Canada, Oliver said he looks after 13 wind farms and one battery storage site across southern Alberta. 

He attended TransAlta’s Feb. 17 information session at Hill Spring Community Centre to answer questions about a wind farm TransAlta hopes to build in Cardston County as part of its proposed Riplinger renewable energy project, Oliver told Shootin’ the Breeze on Feb. 28.

“It seems to me that this is a conflict of interest” according to council’s code of conduct (Bylaw 1622-18), the complainant stated in a letter attached to council’s Feb. 27 agenda.

 

 

The complainant, whose name is redacted from the letter, wrote that the Riplinger project would feed into a 45-kilometre transmission line through the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, which borders Cardston County. 

“I believe the Town of Pincher Creek has an inherent relationship to the proposed project,” the letter states, adding that Oliver’s presence at the Hill Spring session “could be seen as potentially using one’s councillor influence for the financial gain or benefits to their associated business/employer,” regardless of whether he attended as a town councillor or a company employee. 

“I thought it was just another day at TransAlta,” Oliver told the Breeze. 

“I don’t think I was in a conflict of interest,” he said, noting that the info session was no different than the dozen other public meetings he’s attended for other TransAlta projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

 

 

His professional involvement with Riplinger would happen after the project is built, assuming that it’s approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission, which regulates the province’s utility sector. 

“Sometimes, I conduct my life and forget that people view me as a town councillor. I’m now aware of this potential perception and I’ll manage my affairs with that in mind,” he said. 

Oliver recused himself when council addressed the letter at chambers. 

“From my point of view, we really have no jurisdiction [over Riplinger] unless we become an intervener somehow: We’re not really involved,” Mayor Don Anderberg said. 

 

 

TransAlta has not submitted an application to the AUC on behalf of Riplinger, nor has it put in for the necessary permitting for the transmission line, James Mottershead, spokesperson for TransAlta, told the Breeze on Feb. 17. 

A consultant retained by TransAlta said the transmission line would likely go through the MD, but qualified that it would be routed according to the Alberta Electric System Operator, the non-profit organization that oversees planning for the province’s electrical grid.  

Pincher Creek town council unanimously voted to conduct a review of its code of conduct.

“Council members must be vigilant to avoid any perception or actual activity which may be seen as a conflict of interest” and “must never use their influence as elected representatives for personal advantage,” the code states.

“Frankly, I get paid the same whether Riplinger gets built or not. So, there’s no financial gain for me,” Oliver said.

 

 

 

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Group of people in business suits at the base of a large hurdle

Borrowing bylaw for curling rink passes first hurdle

Pincher Creek town council narrowly approved first reading of a $4-million borrowing bylaw to pay for a new curling rink at the Community Recreation Centre at 948 Hyde St. Council then unanimously voted to expand the project in hopes of qualifying for a federal Green and Inclusive Community Buildings grant for up to 60 per cent of the build. 

A second grant could deliver up to $1 million in construction costs, while council has already set aside $1.25 million in its 2023 capital budget.

Council greenlit the new curling rink through a contentious 4-3 split Feb. 13, with councillors voting along the same lines when the borrowing bylaw was put to the test Feb. 27. 

 

 

Coun. Mark Barber tabled the borrowing bylaw at chambers, stressing that grant funding and a hoped-for contribution by the MD of Pincher Creek would offset the rink’s $4-million price tag.

Both councils discussed a potential contribution by the MD at a closed meeting last month, but MD council hasn’t decided anything, Reeve Rick Lemire told Shootin’ the Breeze last Thursday. 

“We’re keeping our options open at this point,” he said. 

Mayor Don Anderberg and Couns. Gary Cleland and Wayne Oliver supported Barber’s motion, with Couns. David Green, Sahra Nodge and Brian Wright voting against. 

 

 

Barber and Anderberg cited the town and MD’s joint master recreation plan, which ranked a new curling rink as a third-tier priority in March 2021, based on a survey of around 630 residents. 

The curling club and its estimated 150 members hope to donate $200,000 toward the project, plus an ice plant that Barber said was worth $500,000. 

Anderberg said council has funded new walking trails and has started to address upgrades to the Memorial Community Centre arena at 867 Main St., which survey respondents listed as first- and second-tier priorities.

The mayor’s comment drew jeers from residents in attendance, to which Anderberg replied, “I believe the survey was accurate and that it was done for a purpose.” 

 

 

“I would say we’re aggressively pursuing grant money, and all indications are that there would not be a need to borrow the entire [$4 million] amount,” Coun. Oliver said. 

Coun. Nodge was the first to speak against the motion, reminding council that the project remains largely unfunded, and warning that residents might have to support a heavy debt load through higher taxes. 

Nodge also highlighted the town’s 2022 master infrastructure report by the engineering firm ISL, a planning document that recommends roughly $13 million worth of sidewalk, storm sewer and other upgrades as part of a 10-year capital plan. 

Acknowledging strong support for the curling rink among some portions of the community, Nodge insisted that council hasn’t hadn’t done its homework ahead of the project. 

 

 

“If this goes ahead, which it probably will, and somebody asks, ‘What are the implications for this on taxpayers for the Town of Pincher Creek?’ I don’t have an answer other than my own speculation, and that worries me.” 

Noting the town’s acute, chronic housing crunch, Coun. Green reminded council that the community and the municipality have limited resources to bear across a host of civic projects. 

“Consequently, a plan for priority spending should be developed in conjunction with the current council’s strategic priorities from 2022 through 2026, which will help eliminate any reactive or misaligned development decisions,” Green said. 

Council then unanimously voted to add a bouldering wall and an exhibition space to the Community Recreation Centre. The additions strengthen the town’s chances of receiving the GIBC grant by making the facility more accessible, according to the grant’s funding criteria. 

 

 

The grant requires a carbon net-zero build, which would add about 30 per cent to projected construction costs, according to Tristan Walker, municipal energy project lead for the town and MD. 

Walker said the additions would ultimately save money because the grant would cover up to 60 per cent of total construction costs — if council receives the grant. 

The recreation centre currently runs year-round, and project supporters say the new amenities would offer a more robust selection of activities.

The borrowing bylaw must be put to a public hearing and two more readings at chambers, according to the Municipal Government Act. 

If passed, opponents would have 30 days to challenge the borrowing bylaw, according to finance director Wendy Catonio.

 

 

 

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Semi with orange cab drives on Highway 3 near Crowsnest Pass

Crowsnest Pass council discusses Highway 3 twinning

Crowsnest Pass municipal council wants to address residents’ concerns about twinning Highway 3 when councillors meet with Transportation Ministry officials at March’s Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention in Edmonton.

Mayor Blair Painter, who sits on the non-profit Highway 3 Twinning Development Association (H3TDA), added the issue to council’s Feb. 14 agenda, prompting a frank discussion about the project’s economic and traffic safety benefits for the municipality. 

“I’ve heard a lot of comments from people wanting to talk about Highway 3, which leads me to the point where I believe that our community wants to have this come back to Alberta Transportation for further discussion,” Painter told council.

 

 

H3TDA has advocated for the project for more than 20 years, according to a December 2022 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) report commissioned by the association.  

Former premier Jason Kenney committed in 2020 to twinning the highway between Taber and Burdett at an estimated cost of $150 million, telling Albertans that shovels would go in the ground in the spring of 2021.

Construction on that span of the highway is now slated to begin this spring, while the province announced last November that it plans to twin the rest of the highway within 10 years.

Painter has long supported the project, and Crowsnest Pass’s 2020 municipal development plan states that “Ultimately, the improved corridor will facilitate positive economic growth in the community and increase safety and mobility for the public.” 

 

 

The MDP further states that “The [province’s] recent confirmation of the highway expansion and realignment project equips decision-makers with the certainty needed to make land-use decisions moving forward.” 

With the reality settling in, residents are starting to worry that the project might bypass the municipality altogether, Painter told Shootin’ the Breeze

The PwC study says the project would yield around $1.5 billion in provincewide spending on one-off construction costs, plus around $400,000 in annual maintenance costs between the Fort Macleod bypass and Sentinel. Regional highway maintenance would create an estimated three full-time jobs between Pincher Creek and Sentinel, while hugely benefiting southwestern Alberta’s agricultural, tourism, mining and renewable energy sectors. 

The study also found that twinning the highway would significantly cut down on head-on collisions by allowing motorists to safely pass slow-moving vehicles. 

 

 

A December 2019 planning study by the engineering firm ISL says the twinned highway would function as “a four-lane freeway” linked to Pass communities through interchanges at Allison Creek Road, Blairmore, Frank, and Bellevue-Hillcrest. The study further recommends another local access point through an underpass at Passburg. 

“In the ultimate freeway condition, no other direct highway access will be available for any use, including residential access, business access or field access. All existing highway access, including community access, will need to be directed to the local road network to the ultimate interchange locations,” the study notes. 

ISL’s study acknowledges that “previous highway [3] realignments have bypassed” Blairmore, Bellevue and Hillcrest. 

Painter said Coleman was also bypassed in the 1980s. 

 

 

Speaking at chambers on Feb. 14, Painter reminded councillors that “We’ve all lived here long enough to remember what happened to our commercial areas.”

Speaking to the Breeze 10 days later, Painter noted that local traffic is already much safer thanks to four traffic lights that went up along municipal stretches of Highway 3 roughly a year and a half ago. (The PwC study notes that highway collisions were 1.5 times higher on untwinned highway sections between 2014 and 2018, based on period data from the Government of Alberta).

The lights also make it easier for tourists and residents to directly access Crowsnest Pass’s communities, Painter added. 

The mayor said up to 25 properties and businesses might have to be expropriated to accommodate highway expansion through parts of Frank. 

 

 

The ISL study was less specific, noting, “The community of Frank is anticipated to be a challenging area for land acquisition given the residential properties and active businesses impacted by the recommended plan.” 

The mayor also told the Breeze that the project risks disturbing the west side of the historic Frank Slide, which is considered a graveyard. 

Bill Chapman, president of H3TDA, says the association hears Painter’s concerns “loud and clear.”  

H3TDA strongly supported Painter’s initiative to install Crowsnest Pass’s highway traffic lights, and remains committed to “achieving a balance” that supports rich economic growth for the province and the Pass, Chapman continued.

 

 

The province may decide to expropriate some properties in Frank, but Chapman noted that ISL “very clearly” stressed the need to protect the graveyard section of the slide. 

H3TDA and the province have hosted local stakeholders at multiple public forums, with Alberta Transportation officials meeting with councils from Crowsnest Pass, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and the Village of Cowley four times between June 2017 and November 2018, according to the ISL study. 

Mayor Painter said he’s looking forward to confirming a meeting with Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen at next month’s RMA convention.

 

 

 

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Highway leading toward mountains with fields filled with wind turbines

Concerns raised over TransAlta’s Riplinger project

A proposed wind farm in Cardston County is facing opposition from a group of residents who say the project threatens the region’s sensitive environment and that their voices are being ignored as the project approaches the regulatory phase. 

The project, dubbed Riplinger by Calgary electricity wholesaler TransAlta, has meanwhile drawn the attention of Pincher Creek’s MD, where the company will likely seek to build a transmission line, according to an information package sent last December to county residents within 1.5 kilometres of the project’s tentative boundaries. 

The Riplinger farm would generate power from 46 wind turbines on 14,000 acres of private land roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Pincher Creek, the package states. James Mottershead, spokesman for TransAlta, later told Shootin’ the Breeze the project would involve 50 turbines. 

Mottershead said TransAlta “introduced” Riplinger to the MD in May 2022, though the company has not filed an application with the Alberta Utilities Commission, which has broad authority to approve utility projects. 

 

 

Many people who attended TransAlta’s public information session in Cardston County’s village of Hill Spring last Friday were asked to sign a petition circulated by Riplinger’s opponents. 

“This is the wrong place for a wind farm,” Bill Merry said as locals steadily filed into the village community centre.

Merry said he was frustrated that TransAlta “has done absolutely the bare minimum in communicating with the project’s stakeholders,” many of whom Merry said live beyond Riplinger’s 1.5-kilometre radius. 

“It’s like they’re trying to shove this under the rug,” he added. 

Angela Tabak, who lives in the nearby hamlet of Mountain View, said she’d been networking with residents within the project radius, who can intervene if they notify the AUC that they will be directly and adversely affected by Riplinger. 

Merry and Tabak said they hoped for a public hearing where TransAlta would be called to show its plans to protect migratory birds and other wildlife species, as well as the wetlands between the Waterton and Belly rivers. Fifty people had signed the petition roughly an hour after doors opened at the community centre. 

 

 

Speaking to MD councillors at chambers on Feb. 14, Reeve Rick Lemire held up TransAlta’s information package, which outlines a host of federal and provincial bodies that will enter the regulatory process ahead of the MD and Cardston County. 

 “This is where we fit into the hierarchy of approvals — when everything else is done,” he told council. 

The AUC can approve utility projects over the objections of local governments, according to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.

“The commission takes into account local governments’ positions on projects, both when they support a project and when they oppose a project. It is incredibly helpful to the commission for municipalities to participate in the AUC’s decision-making process,” AUC spokesman Geoff Scotton told the Breeze.

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, takes a different view. 

The AUC “ignores municipal planning authority on a regular basis,” he said earlier this month. “They actually institutionally ignore it.”

 

 

McLauchlin said renewable energy will play a critical role in southwestern Alberta’s economic future, adding that many food producers have welcomed projects like Riplinger because developers typically pay well to lease private land. That money spurs investment in ranches and farms, but McLauchlin warned that unchecked development on arable land would jeopardize regional food security. 

James Van Leeuwen, who heads a power company in Pincher Creek and sits on the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative’s board of directors, said Riplinger would be “unremarkable” if it weren’t tentatively sited near the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, an environmentally sensitive area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1979. 

“Waterton is an ecological gem,” he said.

Van Leeuwen participated in SASCI’s 2018 regional economic study, which was commissioned by Shell Canada, the Town of Pincher Creek and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, shortly after Shell announced it would probably shutter its Waterton gas plant (Shell Waterton) by 2030. 

Shell Waterton employed about 100 people when SASCI published its findings. Most lived in the town of Pincher Creek, while the plant generated about 20 per cent of tax revenue in the surrounding MD.

The study found that Shell Waterton generated 10 per cent of regional GDP, which renewable energy projects can’t match.

 

 

Van Leeuwen noted that renewable energy projects might pose similar environmental impacts at the construction phase, especially because concrete and steel bear heavy carbon footprints. 

“But that’s not the point,” Van Leeuwen said. “What we’re looking at are the impacts over the lifetime of the infrastructure and for renewable energy.… We’re displacing a high-impact energy source with a low environmental impact energy source.”

Speaking at last Friday’s info session in Hill Spring, James Mottershead said TransAlta hasn’t finalized plans for Riplinger, including the proposed transmission line. 

Ryan Desrosiers, an environmental consultant retained by TransAlta, said the line would probably come through the MD. Transmission lines are regulated by the AUC in conjunction with the Alberta Electric System Operator, according to Geoff Scotton. 

Desrosiers said TransAlta hopes to host an information session in the MD sometime this spring. 

TransAlta hopes to submit its application for Riplinger to the AUC by June, according to Mottershead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Keyboard with large, orange key with pause written in white letters

MD of Pincher Creek hits pause on rezoning applications

Pincher Creek’s MD is pausing recreational development pending a review of the district’s land use bylaw.

Council voted last month to put off decisions on all rezoning applications for rural recreational development through the end of June, or until council updates the MD’s land use bylaw. The resolution, tabled by deputy reeve Tony Bruder, follows a recent spate of applications by residents and outside entrepreneurs hoping to launch tourist ventures on MD ranchlands, especially campgrounds. 

Ranchers who opposed a rezoning bid by the Waterton outfitter Blak Star Globes had called for a rezoning freeze at a public hearing last November. 

Council voted down Blak Star’s application in December, but approved a broadly similar rezoning at the same meeting. 

“The perception was that we were picking winners and losers,” Reeve Rick Lemire told Shootin’ the Breeze on Feb 8.

 

 

Lemire said the MD has heard from a number of hopeful rural recreational developers since the new year, prompting council to take a beat while it hashes out a consistent policy framework. 

Council had planned to update its land use bylaw, which outlines zoning, as part of its upcoming strategic plan — a long-term priority, according to Lemire.  

Seven rezoning applications came through council in 2022, five of which were approved, according to MD spokeswoman Jessica McClelland. 

“We decided that we couldn’t wait,” Lemire said. 

Council sat down for an initial review of its land use bylaw last week, drawing on the advice of Gavin Scott, a planning consultant with the Oldman River Regional Services Commission

The Covid-19 pandemic thrashed Alberta’s tourist economy, plunging tourist spending from $8.2 billion in 2019 to $4.9 billion in 2020 — a 43 per cent decrease, according to Travel Alberta. 

 

 

But the industry is recovering — tourist spending hit $5.7 billion in 2021 — in part because pandemic travel restrictions inadvertently drew Albertans to camping spots in the Pincher Creek area. 

“There’s going to be lots of rezoning applications coming, so we need to look at them with a refreshed perspective,” Lemire said, explaining that council went through a similar process when windmills started to crop up in the MD.  

“We did a study that showed us where we wanted windmills to go and where we didn’t want them to go. So, we’re doing something similar here for campgrounds.” 

Developers can still file rezoning applications in the interim, but a staff report appended to council’s Jan. 13 agenda notes that “Council has the right to refuse them at first reading.”