AltaLink powerline hearings intimidating, unfair to residents

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on September 13, 2013.

It’s hard to imagine a more intimidating environment, where government towers over the average person, than the hearing this week about AltaLink’s plan for power lines on Township Road 114.

With all the trappings of a court of law, one side of the “courtroom” was stacked with highly paid expert witnesses, AltaLink executives, their lawyer and his assistant to help him keep numerous six-inch files at the ready, all smartly dressed in tailored suits, facing banks of laptops and reference material.

On the other side of the “courtroom” were the landowners along Township Road 114 who had been living quiet and peaceful lives until AltaLink announced its route for power lines.

These ordinary men and woman had thrust upon them a hearing, scheduled to take up to a week, as their platform to try to defend their right to a quiet and healthy enjoyment of their property, including a view of the countryside without pylons. That country view is often the impetus for many choosing to travel the distance into town for work, school and shopping.

A couple of them did have a lawyer to represent them but most had taken time away from work, had researched the implications as best they could and presented that to the “court.”

With the odds stacked against them, the AltaLink lawyer, in summing up and rebuttal, almost sneered at their efforts suggesting they’d not bothered to obtain legal counsel and therefore had not done a very good job of making their case.

It’s true the Alberta Utilities Commission does make provision for helping with the cost of legal counsel but they don’t profess to “cover” it.

A spokesperson for the commission said the landowners would have to make an application for financial assistance and would then have to try to find a lawyer willing to work for what the commission agreed to pay. The other option is to pick up the remainder of the legal bill themselves.

Hardly a fair playing field compared to the resources a company such as AltaLink has at its disposal.

The cost of the hearing organized by the Alberta Utilities Commission was not available. A spokesperson said there is and was no budget for the host of people, estimated to be around 10, necessary to administer the hearings.

It is, of course, the taxpayer who pays the Alberta Utilities Commission’s bill and ultimately we all pay AltaLink’s bill too.

There is something terribly wrong with a system that foists on the average person the need to defend their right to continued enjoyment of their land and especially so when the odds appear horribly stacked against them.

If you think this has nothing to do with you because you don’t live on Township Road 114, think again, AltaLink’s next project may be coming to your neighbourhood.