Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County continues to lobby the provincial government to protect land west of Grouard that has a long history of flooding.

At its regular meeting March 24, council approved a letter to Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.

Council did not get the solutions it wanted when a 2017 engineering report of flooding issues around Horse Lakes and Buffalo Bay was discussed with Environment at a recent meeting, CAO Jordan Panasiuk writes in a report.

“More work is needed to consider the long-term impacts to agriculture, wildlife, environment and the Town of High Prairie,” says the letter signed by Reeve Ken Matthews.

“After a review of the report, the County is very concerned about the issue being ignored and the potential long-term impact the solution may have on local agriculture, personal property and the Lesser Slave Lake fish population.”

The County has heard from many residents in the area north of High Prairie and in Prairie Echo who have been adversely impacted by the flooding explained in the 2017 Northwest Hydraulic Consultants report, the letter says.

Council is frustrated local issues are ignored by government.

“It irritates me that the government spends money on irrigation in the south but not a whole lot of funding for flood mitigation in the north,” Matthews says.

South Sunset House – Gilwood Councillor Ann Stewart agreed.

“For the government, it seems in the last few years that the south is more important than the north,” Stewart says.

Enilda – Big Meadow Councillor Donald Bissell adds another view.

“This land is more productive than down south,” Bissell says.

Panasiuk notes that Peace River MLA Dan Williams plans to bring Nixon to Big Lakes to tour the subject. Council suggests in the spring.

Besides long-term impacts to the environment, council highlights five other key points in the letter.

  • -Council does not favour buying back land as the sole solution to the issue as recommended by AEP.
  • -A value-added engineering workshop is needed.
  • -A sediment monitoring program is needed.
  • -Alberta Environment needs to reconsider the weighting criteria of the 2017 report options.
  • -Improvements need to have a buy-in from all divisions of AEP, such as wetlands and approvals.

Council opposes Northwest’s recommended solution to purchase land as the sole solution to the problem.

“We view this option as trying to address a symptom of the problem instead of tackling the problem itself,” says Matthews.

Council suggests the next step should be a value engineering workshop recommended in the 2017 report.

“This exercise would be a valuable process to assist the province in identifying and analyzing possible alternative solutions,” Matthews says.

Big Lakes also recommends a sediment monitoring program be considered for the delta to better understand the impacts to the ecosystem.

The province needs to reconsider the Horse Lakes study weighting criteria in determining the most appropriate long-term solution.

Several other steps are recommended by Big Lakes.

Alberta Environment and Parks should fully endorse the agreed-on solution including the Wetlands and Approval divisions of AEP.

“This is a unique and complicated situation, so it is imperative that all divisions of AEP be open minded and flexible in order to come up with the best possible solution for everyone,” Matthews says.

“More work must be done to fully consider the long-term effects of the accumulation of sediment and debris in the delta.

The recommendation to simply retreat will have devastating long-term consequences to agriculture, wildlife, the environment, and the Town of High Prairie.

“AEP’s infrastructure is continuing to fail with increased regularity,” Matthews says.

“Now with the recent change to the Disaster Recovery Program, we strongly recommend that this issue be made a top priority for your ministry so we can jointly develop and implement a permanent solution that the community and the province can get behind as soon as possible.”

Council agreed to also send a copy of the letter to MLA Williams, a member of the governing UCP caucus.

A letter will not be forwarded to Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn.

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