WHEREAS the Alberta Wetland Policy and the Water Act require costly environmental studies as a component of the application process for wetland impacts; and
WHEREAS the Alberta Wetland Policy and the Water Act require wetland replacement for impacts to all wetlands greater in permanence than ephemeral; and
WHEREAS rural municipalities are not currently in a position to perform permittee-based wetland replacement, and therefore must pay in-lieu compensation where road maintenance activities on existing roads impact applicable wetlands; 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, in order to ensure public safety, accommodate increased use including extra weight and more traffic, and to upgrade roads to current standards; and
WHEREAS municipal roads requiring maintenance occur in existing right of ways, and were historically planned and built prior to the requirements of provincial wetland regulations; and
WHEREAS the re-building and maintenance of roads are causing municipalities increasing financial burden due to the requirement for environmental studies and compensation payments associated with the Alberta Wetland Policy; and
WHEREAS municipalities have limited opportunity to generate revenue to accommodate the increasing cost of re-building and maintaining roads except to transfer the costs to local ratepayers; and
WHEREAS the consequences of not completing road maintenance as required 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 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.
4-17F: Water Act Approvals for Municipal Projects on Municipal Land
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.
DEVELOPMENT: Though the response from the Government of Alberta recognizes the challenges faced by municipalities who are subject to relatively short construction seasons and extensive infrastructure networks, the response does not indicate any change in process or regulation to the extent outlined in the resolution. This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met.
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 with regard to construction projects.
DEVELOPMENT: 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 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 are forthcoming but have been delayed as of April 2018. The RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Principle, and will monitor progress made.
Alberta Environment and Parks
Wetlands play a critical role in sustaining healthy watersheds. They protect water quality, provide water storage, recharge groundwater and support biodiversity by offering habitat for wildlife, fish and plants. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is committed to the improvement of the provincial wetland management system through regular interactions with stakeholders, including the Rural Municipalities of Alberta and other municipal partners.
The Wetland Assessment and Impact Form was created in 2017 to meet wetland policy requirements, while significantly reducing the costs of wetland assessment studies for low-risk activities such as road upgrade and widening projects.
The new Wetland Replacement Dedicated Revenue Initiative supports a fully developed, integrated wetland management system, as recommended by the Auditor General of Alberta, and promotes greater municipal involvement in wetland restoration decisions throughout the province.
AEP will continue to engage with municipal stakeholders to ensure that wetland policy requirements are accessible, consistent and efficient, while remaining aligned with legislative and regulatory obligations.
In January 2020, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) conducted a survey to gather information from municipalities about municipal road maintenance activities impacting wetlands. Based on the survey feedback, AEP updated the Wetland Assessment and Impact Form (WAIF) to allow low-risk activities such as widening, improvements or maintenance of an existing road within a registered road plan right of way or within 15 meters of the center line of an existing unregistered or private road to require a WAIF rather than a full Wetland Assessment and Impact Report (WAIR). AEP has stated that this change will reduce red tape by allowing more flexible and less costly wetland assessments within a larger project area, therefore reducing costs for municipalities.
RMA acknowledges that AEP has introduced a system change that will help reduce costs; however, it does not address replacement costs in a substantial manner and the WAIF program does not allow for the exemption of all wetland impacts in road right of ways that are smaller than one hectare in size. RMA assigns this resolution Intent Not Met and will continue to be in contact with AEP on this issue.