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Lacombe County passes on wetlands projects

Gull Lake Watershed Society had hoped Lacombe County would donate construction help

A group proposing several Gull Lake-area wetland projects aimed at improving water quality will have to go ahead without Lacombe County.

Gull Lake Watershed Society had hoped to line up two weeks worth of county equipment and labour this summer for three projects. Work would have involved moving up to 30,000 cubic metres of soil and creating four settling ponds. Another two weeks of work was requested for 2018.

The county was also asked to purchase 47 acres of land to help with the project. That cost was undetermined, ranging from a low of $47,000 to a potential high of $305,000.

While council supported the goal of improving water quality councillors felt there were too many unanswered questions to commit county resources.

“I think there is a lot of study and a lot of work that has to go into this,” said Coun. Ken Wigmore.

The society’s proposed projects would use wetlands and settlements ponds to filter and purify water going into the lake.

Coun. Barb Shepherd was concerned about establishing a precedent. What will the county do if people around Buffalo, Sylvan or Lacombe lakes want similar support for their projects, she asked.

Phil Lodermeier, the county’s manager of operations, said the watershed society has been working with Alberta Environment and Parks on the projects. However, the regulatory process could prove intensive.

“Our experience with Alberta Environment is you avoid wetlands at all cost,” said Lodermeier, adding many approvals would be required.

The land purchase also poses issues. Alberta Environment allows municipalities to provide wetlands in lieu of land disturbed for road projects or other construction.

Whether the 47 acres included in the wetlands society’s proposals could be used as an offset is not known.

“The land would need to be appraised but unless the county could this as a compensation bank for future wetland disturbance it would be hard to justify the expenditure,” says Lodermeier’s report to council.

The cost of committing all of the county’s equipment runs at $118,000 per week.

Councillors opted to make no commitment to the projects. Instead, the watershed society was encouraged to work with ALUS Canada, which the society has already contacted on several other wetlands projects.

Non-profit ALUS provides annual payments to farmers and ranchers who restore wetlands, reforest, plant windbreaks, install riparian buffers, manage drainage and undertake other ecologically beneficial projects.

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