WHEREAS the Alberta Wetland Policy requires municipalities to implement practices that impact budgets and project timelines with minimal improvements to the environment; and
WHEREAS the wetland application process can take several months if a field assessment is required as it can only be completed during the plant growing season; and
WHEREAS most of the costs associated with the wetland restoration program are used for administration, with a minimal amount used to improve the environment; and
WHEREAS municipalities are required to hire engineers to complete desktop and wetland assessments and Alberta Environment and Parks use significant staff resources to review engineer assessments and process applications; and
WHEREAS rural municipalities manage the majority of Alberta’s public road infrastructure; and
WHEREAS roads require consistent maintenance and/or re-building to support a growing province, ensure public safety, accommodate increased use including extra weight and more traffic, and align with current standards; and
WHEREAS the consequences of not completing road maintenance as required, due to extended time and extra cost, could include putting public safety in jeopardy due to a lack of upgraded roads, and loss of transportation routes for industry and the public due to road bans or road closure;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to modify the Alberta Wetland Mitigation Directive to minimize the administration and assessment process to reduce costs and approval times for municipalities; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that funds collected through the Alberta Wetland Mitigation Directive be directed to environment improvement projects that have low administration fees.
Recently, Saddle Hills County has hired consultants to complete wetland assessments on projects and have found the process is time-consuming and expensive, especially if wetlands are found. Below is a summary of an example of one such project:
Summary of Wetland Assessment – Highway 725:02 / Township Road 811
The Highway 725:02 and Township Road 811 intersection improvement project consists of a 0.31 km road widening for turning lanes, culvert extension and relocation of a private driveway.
A desktop assessment of the wetland was completed which identified impact to five wetlands including a 50 metre buffer. Therefore, a full wetland assessment and impact report was completed. The wetland assessment started on February 27, 2019 and was completed on July 17, 2019 at a cost of $21,855 which includes $7,400 of wetland compensation.
9-18F: Impact of the Alberta Wetland Policy on the Cost of Maintaining Public Road Infrastructure
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to modify the Alberta Wetland Mitigation Directive to allow all wetland impacts as a result of municipal road maintenance or re-building of existing roads to utilize a one to one ratio, or D to D value wetland replacement; and/or consider exempting all wetland impacts in road right of ways that are smaller than one hectare in size.
15-18F: Wetland Mitigation Directive – Restoration and Compensation
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that Alberta Environment and Parks follow the Wetland Mitigation Directive and that permittee-responsible mitigation either through enhancement or construction of wetlands be allowed, be it either through the Alternative Land Use Services program or through wetlands constructed as a part of stormwater management ponds.
Alberta Environment and Parks
Environment and Parks is aware that the Water Act and Alberta Wetland Policy (AWP) regulatory requirements for municipal road maintenance impacting wetlands can be onerous for municipalities. The department is developing a streamlined regulatory process to reduce red tape for low-risk wetland impacts resulting from municipal road maintenance activities. We appreciate RMA’s support in delivering a survey to its members, which has helped to scope the department’s work to reduce red tape for municipal road maintenance activities impacting wetlands. The department plans to re-engage municipalities this summer to get feedback on regulatory solutions targeted for fall 2020. We are examining how to implement the Water Act and AWP more efficiently. It is important that we continue to hear input and ideas from rural municipalities on red tape reduction.
A key premise of the AWP and the Wetland Replacement Program (WRP) is to replace wetland area and function in watersheds, where permanent wetland disturbances were approved under the Water Act and AWP. The WRP will provide funding for approved wetland replacement projects in accordance with service agreements with municipalities. One goal of the WRP is to establish agreements with municipalities to restore and construct wetlands that will directly benefit communities and the surrounding ecosystem. Replacement projects will help manage flooding or water quality issues, provide habitat to specific species and could provide additional recreational or educational opportunities.
Our government acknowledges that up to 70 per cent of wetlands have been lost in the settled parts of Alberta, and the WRP is focused on demonstrating restoration and construction of wetland area to offset ongoing and historical wetland losses. Restoration activities that result in functional improvements to a wetland are eligible for funding, as long as they are linked to restoration activities that will result in wetland area gains.
Wetland replacement projects offset wetland impacts (paid as a wetland replacement fee to the department through the Water Act approval process), which includes fees paid by municipalities for road impacts to wetlands. This approach will provide a substantially better opportunity for municipalities by reducing liability and increasing financial funding opportunities by:
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) response acknowledges the challenges being faced by rural municipalities related to wetland applications and indicates that AEP is currently developing a streamlined regulatory process to reduce red tape for low-risk wetland impacts resulting from municipal road maintenance activities. RMA and its members have been actively engaging with AEP and sharing challenges rural municipalities are facing in wetland applications, and RMA is pleased to hear that those concerns have helped scope the department’s work to reduce red tape for municipal road maintenance activities impacting wetlands. RMA and its members look forward to continued engagement with AEP to share ideas on red tape reduction for wetlands.
One of AEP’s major initiatives is the Wetland Replacement Program (WRP) which will provide funding for approved wetland replacement projects in accordance with service agreements with municipalities. One goal of the WRP is to establish agreements with municipalities to restore and construct wetlands that will directly benefit communities and the surrounding ecosystem. AEP intends for the WRP to reduce liability and increase financial funding opportunities for municipalities by ensuring collaboration to achieve shared provincial and municipal outcomes, reducing administrative burden and liability associated with long-term Water Act conditions to complete permittee-responsible replacement and providing financial security to complete wetland restoration projects.
This resolution specifically asks for the Government of Alberta to modify the Alberta Wetland Mitigation Directive to minimize the administration and assessment process to reduce costs and approval times for municipalities and that funds collected be directed to environment improvement projects. Although AEP’s response does not directly state any modifications to the Alberta Wetland Mitigation Directive, AEP’s intent for the WRP is to minimize the administrative burden, liability and reduce costs for municipalities.
This resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Part and will be re-evaluated based on the progress of the WRP.