Environmental concerns from Southwest Calgary Ring Road debated in 3-day hearing

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WATCH: Construction on part of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road has been on hold since August after an environmental appeal was filed. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a three-day hearing has started that will determine the fate of the wetlands in the Weaselhead – Oct 23, 2017

A three-day hearing is underway in Calgary this week to discuss a decision by the Alberta government to allow construction of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road to disturb area wetlands.

Construction on the ring road has been going on for months, except for the area around a handful of wetlands. They were spared when an appeal was filed in August. According to the appeal, the construction of the ring road permanently disturbs 24 wetlands totaling 22 hectares.

READ MORE: Construction of Calgary ring road bridge put on hold

Appellants at the hearing said it’s all about protecting the wetlands and drinking water, along with preventing flooding.

“I think they could do a lot more in avoiding the 24 wetlands,” Lakeview resident and appellant Allie Tuck said. “I know they already made some concessions but we just want to see this done right.

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“It’s 2017 and to destroy 24 wetlands in this area in Calgary, which provide flood mitigation and protect the filtration of our water, is unacceptable.”

Appeal board members will determine if Alberta Environment has taken into account the impacts the project will have on the wetlands. They will also look at the wetlands compensation policy.

Government policy is to first avoid disturbing wetlands, then to mitigate damage and to compensate as a last resort. Compensation means building more wetlands elsewhere to make up for the disturbed ones.

“One of the big issues is whether Alberta Environment properly applied that policy in these circumstances,” said Gilbert Van Nes, general counsel and settlement coordinator with the Environmental Appeals Board. “Was there enough evidence? Was there enough consideration of the options to avoid the option to mitigate that eventually led to compensation in a number of those wetlands?”

READ MORE: Path of Elbow River now changing for Southwest Calgary Ring Road construction

Alberta Transportation says the stay has limited the construction work, but crews have been able to work around it for the most part.

“Remember, of course, that the permits are in place for the bridges that cross the Elbow River and crews have been working the best they can within the hours allotted to get this done,” said Adam Johnson, a spokesman for Alberta Transportation.

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Political observers say both the government and the construction consortium should have anticipated a continued fight against the current design.

“This was all thought through,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said. “They’ve been negotiating the ring road for decades and I don’t think much is going to come out of this [hearing].”

READ MORE: Southwest Calgary Ring Road renamed ‘Tsuut’ina Trail’ as construction continues

The hearing by the Environmental Appeals Board will be held at the Best Western Plus Village Park Inn in the 1800 block of Crowchild Trail N.W. on Oct. 23, 24 and 25. It is open to the public for viewing only.

The panel is expected to have a recommendation in about three weeks.