AltaLink backs out of Pass route

By John Stoesser, Pincher Creek Echo

AltaLink, the Berkshire Hathaway owned-transmission system developer, ruled out the Bellevue route for their Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock project due to residential impact, constructability access and cost, leaving three possible power line pathways within the MD of Pincher Creek.

The company is continuing individual landowner negotiations and holding three additional open houses late this spring to solidify a main and alternate route for the proposed CRRCR project before applying to the AUC for approval this fall.

“Based on our analysis of a number of different things we’ve chosen to eliminate that [Bellevue] route for consideration,” Peter Brodsky, an external communications manager with AltaLink said during a phone interview.

“Accessibility and constructability are relatively challenging there,” he said. “A lot of the areas are not accessible by our equipment and with the strong rock formations below the property they’re difficult to drill into…It’s also very high residential impact. It’s probably the most densely populated area along this project’s southern loop route. Just the number of interactions with residential properties made it less attractive as an option.”

The spokesperson also noted that the company identified critical environmental areas in the region.

The Crowsnest Pass council was vocal in their objection to the proposed transmission lines running through their community, releasing a letter late March that claimed the project would damage the marketable landscape of the area.

The MD of Pincher Creek council has not publicly stated a position on the project.

Brodsky was adamant that the decision to remove Bellevue as a possible route location came after contemplating all the factors involved.

“Putting all those together in consideration it just didn’t make sense to pursue that portion of the route from Lee Lake to Bellevue,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a question of trying to prioritize the conditions, it’s looking at the overall conditions.”

Brodsky indicated that route would have been the most expensive.

Kevin Thorvaldson, an AltaLink stakeholder engagement manager, summarized residents’ concerns in a letter. He says the company is now considering the use of underground power lines in areas of high visual value, something that AltaLink has strongly denied as a possibility in the past.

“It’s a serious discussion,” Brodsky said. “We wouldn’t put an option on the table if it wasn’t under serious consideration. That’s why we’re looking for input from residents.”

Brodsky noted he could not identify specific areas that may be considered for underground lines but that AltaLink would bring preliminary options to the upcoming open houses.

Thorvaldson also identified that residents are concerned the proposed project might negatively affect fragile areas of environmental significance. The Livingstone Landowners Group, that has disagreed with the CRRCR project, commissioned a number of maps of the area that studied vegetation, animal migration and water drainages. AltaLink is now taking these maps into consideration.

The company must also conduct their own environmental surveys and include them in their facility application to the AUC.

“We have both in-house environmental experts as well as contractors we would hire to go in and do environmental surveys of flora, fauna, flight patterns for birds,” Brodsky said. “All of that goes into consideration when we’re firming up the final routes.”

In terms of the consultations between AltaLink and landowners, the company keeps records of their conversations and gives the participants a chance to validate them.

Once a deal is reached, “We subject ourselves to a non-disclosure,” Brodsky said. “We won’t let a neighbour know what agreement we signed with a given neighbour. But the landowners themselves are not subjected to a non-disclouse. They can talk to whomever they want about it.”

There are three open house coming up this spring on May 26 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Community Hall in Cowley, Alta., May 27 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Heritage Inn in Pincher Creek, Alta. and June 2 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Coast Plaza Hotel in Calgary, Alta.

“This time we’re trying something a little bit different,” Brodsky said. “We’re actually going to have an open house on June 2 and that’s in recognition that there are a number of Calgarians who have summer residences in the area.”

The proposed CRRCR project is expected to cost between $500 million and $750 million.

It includes building a new substation, building a new 240 kilovolt double circuit transmission line approximately 20 to 41 kilometres in length from the existing Castle Rock Ridge Substation to one of the proposed Chapel Rock Substation locations, building approximately one to 13 kilometres of new 500 kilovolt transmission line depending on the location of the Chapel Rock Substation, building a new telecommunications tower and expanding the existing Castle Rock Ridge Substation.