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WHEREAS Alberta municipalities continue to facilitate growth and promote economic development that requires construction activity including road construction on municipal right of ways or construction of municipal projects on municipal land; and
WHEREAS Alberta Environment and Parks, under the Water Act, requires approvals for all road construction and/or municipal projects on municipal property or right of ways; and
WHEREAS the required approvals are resulting in long delays on many projects requiring these approvals; and
WHEREAS roadways often require burrow pits (dugouts) that retain water better in drought conditions and many road ditch structures develop wetland environments;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge the Government of Alberta to relax the requirement for formal approvals on all road construction on municipal right of ways less than 40 metres wide and consider alternate strategies for protecting water resources.
The current process requires the applicant, in this case, municipalities, to do the assessment and valuation of each project. Alberta Environment and Parks then reviews and endorses any reports of action items that are a result of the assessment. Municipalities are completing these assessments in a timely manner, often with the assistance of consultants, but the projects’ progress is halted waiting on Alberta Environment and Parks approvals, often times upwards of 3-5 years. These delays in approvals can put municipalities at a disadvantage in finding and retaining contractors to do the work. Additionally, it costs money if their own fleet is waiting to complete any of the projects waiting for approvals. Some projects in recent times have been waiting for approval for over a year, making it difficult for councils and administrations to predict and budget for expenditures.
Municipalities, much like the provincial government, work in the best interest of their ratepayers and their tax dollars. Rather than increase staff and resources into the current system, there can be changes could be made to the existing process to improve efficiency while maintaining the legislative oversight that was intended within the Water Act.
One option could be to allow municipalities to save both time and money by fast tracking approvals initiated by municipalities. This allows municipalities to move projects forward which are beneficial to their citizens and bolster local economy in a more timely and efficient manner. A tiered approach may also be considered; where projects with low environmental risk are approved through a faster track than those requiring a more detailed study and review.
The basic principle behind requesting a change to the process is to bring municipalities in as a partner, rather than just another applicant for a construction process, recognizing municipalities have a stake in preserving and prolonging the life of our surrounding environment as well. Municipalities would like to be considered a “net-zero” partner, municipalities are requesting AEP to consider municipalities as “net zero trusted partners”, considering wetlands filled in balance wetlands created.
1-16F: Alberta Environment and Parks Approvals for Construction Projects
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 and Parks with regard to construction projects.
DEVELOPMENTS: The Government of Alberta response acknowledges the challenges that municipalities are facing in receiving timely approvals of works related to wetlands. The AAMDC is encouraged that Alberta Environment and Parks 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 has indicated that an Alberta Wetland Construction Directive and Alberta Wetland Construction Guide will be released in fall 2017. The AAMDC assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Principle, and will monitor progress made.
Alberta Environment and Parks
Albertans care deeply about their water resources and support the government’s efforts to effectively manage Alberta’s water.
We are aware of municipal concerns related to road construction and maintenance in wetlands, and have made process improvements and put additional resources in place to expedite the application process for routine, low-impact activities. Alberta Environment and Parks must apply a fair and equitable process in managing new and existing Water Act applications in the system. We hold municipalities to the same standard we hold all applicants, including other provincial government departments.
We are targeting further process improvements through the development of Wetland Codes of Practice for low-impact activities. Municipalities are encouraged to work with regional approvals staff through pre-approval meetings to ensure they are aware of application requirements and submit complete applications to streamline the approvals process.
In January 2020, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) conducted a survey to gather information from municipalities about municipal road maintenance activities impacting wetlands. AEP is seeking to reduce red tape and streamline the regulatory process for low risk wetland impacts resulting from municipal road maintenance activities. AEP has not released the results from the survey, but RMA will continue to be in contact with AEP and will keep members informed on any updates. RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met but will review the status once it is clear if the results of the survey will relax the requirement for formal approvals on all road construction on municipal right of ways less than 40 meters wide.