WHEREAS approvals from Alberta Environment and Parks for construction projects, including road construction and road maintenance have been delayed, in some instances presenting safety concerns; and
WHEREAS municipalities in Alberta have attempted to work together with Alberta Environment and Parks to draft a Code of Practice to provide municipalities the ability to operate independently while adhering to requirements to allow construction and road maintenance work within road right of ways; and
WHEREAS timely approvals are essential to the effective functioning of municipal governments and the completion of necessary work;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties requests that consideration be given to safety concerns related to delayed environmental approval processing and supports the creation of a process for municipalities to receive timely approvals from Alberta Environment with regard to construction projects.
The Alberta Wetland Policy was proclaimed in 2013 with implementation occurring in July 2015. As part of the implementation, Wetland Regulatory Requirements were established, with these regulations leading to more wetland assessments being required prior to work being done adjacent to wetlands (i.e. sloughs). This applies in many instances to road maintenance and construction projects.
It has been difficult for municipalities to meet the requirements of the Wetland Policy in a timely fashion due to the length of time it takes for Alberta Environment and Parks to issue approvals. As a result, many projects are being held up and posing safety concerns as municipalities wait for receipt of approval prior to undertaking the work.
If the work required is considered an emergency due to public safety being compromised (i.e. washed out culvert), approvals are provided in a timely fashion. However, the municipality is required to prove that an emergency exists.
In 2016, of the five small road projects being proposed by Red Deer County, only one has proceeded as the others are all awaiting approvals.
Red Deer County has been a part of a group of municipalities who have been working with Alberta Environment and Parks administration to draft a Code of Practice for municipalities to adhere to in relation to road construction and maintenance projects. If Alberta Environment and Parks approves this code of conduct, then for certain projects (such as culvert repair or replacement), the municipalities would not have to wait for Alberta Environment approval before starting the work as the work being done would be in accordance with the approved Code of Practice.
Alberta Environment and Parks’ current policy for wetlands can cause major delays to road projects.
For wetland approvals, a biologist must complete a field assessment and determine the class of each wetland. Seasonal (Class III), Semi-permanent (Class IV), and Permanent (Class V) wetlands can be Crown claimable (old oxbows similar to those located on Waskasoo Creek are automatically Crown claimed). An initial review is conducted on these three classes of wetlands to determine, based on the wetland’s permanency, whether the land might be claimed by the crown, resulting in two possible scenarios:
If any of the wetlands appear to be permanent, and, therefore, may be claimed, a formal water boundaries determination is required, at which point the report will be submitted for review. This process currently takes 12 to18 months.
If none of the wetlands appear permanent, the report will be kept on file and included with the Water Act application (but not submitted to Water Boundaries).
Should the Crown formally claim any wetlands, approval from Public Lands is required. This typically takes three months; however, a Temporary Field Authorization may be granted for work while the application is being processed, which allows the work to proceed.
For all classes of wetlands, a Water Act approval along with a wetland replacement proposal and offset compensation is required. Field assessments can only be done from May to September which also causes delays for projects.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Environment and Parks: Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) acknowledges and appreciates challenges faced by the province’s municipalities in their pursuit of road construction, expansion, and maintenance projects within a constrained construction season.
Some of the delays/additional rigor that municipalities are seeing on their regulatory applications for road construction across wetland are related to process updates implemented under the Alberta Wetland Policy. Challenges being experienced are a reflection of the learning process as applicants, wetland assessors, and regulatory approval writers are familiarizing themselves with enhanced process requirements relating to wetland assessments and standardized regulatory submissions/forms.
Given the fairly standard nature of these activities, known challenges and limitations of municipal applicants, and the broader significance of these projects to Albertans, AEP is currently working to develop an updated regulatory process for road works impacting wetlands in the province. The solution(s) ultimately put forth will respect provincial legislation and regulation, while ensuring that the spirit and intent of the Alberta Wetland Policy continues to be met.
At the same time, municipal needs and limitations will be acknowledged, such that works can proceed in an efficient, timely, and appropriately informed manner.
Alberta Transportation: Alberta Transportation has no comments beyond those provided by AEP.
The Government of Alberta response acknowledges the challenges that municipalities are facing in receiving timely approvals of works related to wetlands. The RMA is encouraged that Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has identified this as a problem and is in the process of developing an updated regulatory process for road works impacting wetlands which will balance provincial and municipal needs regarding regulatory compliance and timeliness. The Government of Alberta released the Directive for Permittee-Responsible Wetland Construction in Alberta and the Alberta Guide to Wetland Construction in Stormwater Management Facilities in December 2018 to support policy related to construction activities related to wetlands.
Alberta Environment and Parks has recognized challenges related to delayed approvals, and at the Fall 2018 RMA conference, the Minister identified that AEP is working on an online system to expedite this process. The RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Principle, and will monitor progress made.