Altalink Tactics a Disgrace!

AltaLink publicly apologizes for land agent’s behaviour involving transmission-line project

Saturday, April 30, 2011

By Hanneke Brooymans,

Epcor Utilities and AltaLink have submitted their application to the Alberta Utilities Commission to build the controversial Heartland high-voltage transmission line.

EDMONTON – AltaLink publicly apologized at the Heartland transmission project hearing Friday for the appalling conduct of a land agent it hired to make deals with landowners in the path of the transmission line.

Len Kozak, whose mother owns a farm near Gibbons, said a land agent visited the family farm on April 16 at their invitation to discuss a possible offer. The project team, consisting of AltaLink and Epcor, wants to put five towers on their land as part of a 500 kilovolt, double-circuit transmission line between south Edmonton and the industrial heartland northeast of the capital.

Kozak said his mother, who is 76, has poor hearing and won’t wear a hearing aid. She asked him to tape the conversation.

The project team has sent land agents out to landowners along the preferred route running east of Edmonton to try to reach tentative agreements. The alternate route runs around the western outskirts of Edmonton. Landowners in the preferred route were offered $10,000 if they signed an early access agreement, which would also prohibit them from intervening at the hearing.

“The statements and the things this employee said were nothing more than intimidation tactics to get us to sign our rights away,” Kozak said. “He said things like AltaLink had the support of the premier, had the support of the Progressive Conservative party, that the AUC had already made their minds up that this thing was going ahead. That the western route was nothing more than a bureaucratic optics show, that it was only a requirement that AltaLink had to fulfil and that ultimately if we didn’t sign and take this $10,000, it wouldn’t be available to us when the (Alberta Utilities Commission) made their decision.”

The conversation between the land agent and the Kozaks was professionally transcribed and submitted as evidence to the commission panel currently reviewing the project application.

Kozak and his mother didn’t take the money. Instead, Kozak on Friday cross-examined Darin Watson, AltaLink VicePresident, Major Projects.

“When I read through this transcript,” Watson told the hearing, “I was absolutely appalled at how this land agent represented us, represented the AUC, represented our partner Epcor, speculated on many, many things, misrepresented many things.”

The land agent in question works for Standard Land. Watson said the agent was terminated from all of AltaLink’s work and won’t be working for the company as long as he’s around. He also said Standard Land was suspended from further work, pending investigation. The company also plans to see who else the agent talked to and “ … see what the heck he might have said to them,” Watson said.

According to the transcript of the conversation with the family, the land agent said, “The main reason that (Stelmach) supports it is because he — he feels that the need is very obvious. He feels like there’s no need to actually debate whether or not we require this. He says let’s get it done. And the second reason he supports this is because the timing during the last two years of economic downturn has been brilliant, and this has employed a lot of people and generated a lot of jobs and a lot of work. So the timing of the line just so happens to be perfect, and he feels that the need for transmission is very obvious.”

Standard Land, based in Calgary, declined to comment.

Jim Law, a spokesman for the commission, said they couldn’t comment because the hearing was in progress.

Kozak said he believes the three people on the commission panel holding this hearing are honourable and have impeccable credentials. He doesn’t believe they’ve already made their decision.

But he believes that the land agent’s behaviour was a symptom of how poorly the landowner consultations have been conducted. And he wasn’t happy that the project team won’t admit that fact.

John Kristensen, technical vice-president of Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, said he thought the way AltaLink handled the situation was professional and that Watson’s apology seemed sincere.

But overall, he agreed with Kozak that it was one more example of how poorly the public consultation has gone. An example, he said, is how the maximum height of the towers has changed throughout the process, from 60 metres to 77.

“They just tabled this week a brand new set route of the preferred route. All of a sudden they were able to move the preferred line 100 to 200 metres farther to the west within the Sherwood Park green belt, or the east (transportation utility corridor). So there’s just a constant state of amending the infrastructure they’re going to build or where they’re going to route it. … It’s the most confusing sort of application I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve been involved with quite a few of them. So it’s been a moving target to the point where landowners aren’t sure what to comment on when they’re asked for their public input as directly affected and adversely affected landowners.”

The Heartland project hearing is expected to take another two weeks.

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