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Hinton Water Act application in review

Associated Environmental Consultants Inc. 
This graphic, included in Hinton’s Water Act Application for boardwalk repairs at Maxwell Lake, shows the three priority areas where work would be done if the application is approved.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Resident calls for more clarity in Water Act application

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is in the process of reviewing a Water Act application that will allow the Town of Hinton to maintain certain sections of the Beaver Boardwalk.

Approval to disturb a wetland for the repairs is necessary under the Alberta Water Act, which governs how the Province of Alberta manages water.

As directed by AEP, The Town of Hinton placed an advertisement of the application document to request anyone affected by the application to send a statement of concern to AEP between April 16 and April 23.

AEP did not respond beofre Voice deadline to clarify who qualifies as ‘anyone affected.’

The application was created through a partnership between the town and Associated Engineering’s Environment department and was filed on Oct. 28, 2019.

Repairs to the existing boardwalk are required for public safety as there are large portions that are currently unsafe, explained April Ziegler, environmental scientist from Associated Environmental Consultants Inc.

At a council meeting in June of 2019, the town stated they were in the process of putting together the application that likely wouldn’t be approved until 2020.

Once AEP has reviewed the statements of concern and followed up with each filer, they will be made aware of an appeal process. 

The final approval of the plan will depend on the number and validity of statements of concern received by AEP, any required plan changes derived from the statement of concern analysis by AEP, and the number of appeals that move forward, according to the Town.

If residents miss the chance to issue a statement of concern, they can also file a Notice of Appeal with the Environmental Appeals Board later in the process.

Maureen Harper, a resident of Hinton and frequent user of the Maxwell Lake area, emphasized that the public is being asked to give input on a 15-year plan when that plan is unknown to the public.  

The expected timeframe included in the application ranges from 2019 to 2034.

Josh Yaworski, communication coordinator for the Town,  explained that the Beaver Boardwalk Committee will guide what maintenance actions and decisions are made once the application is approved.

In Harper’s statement of concern to AEP she wrote that the application document lacked explanation on what activities would be carried out, in what timeline, and what the town is allowed to do with a 15-year mandate.

Harper  wrote that the application lacks reference to remediation of the depressed and damaged nesting grounds by the newly installed bridge, pending plans for the approaches to the new bridge, appropriate water level control due to the beavers continuing dam construction, and removal of the bridge itself.

“Although these are not part of the three areas indicated on the map, they are intimately connected to the water way and development in this area. This is all one ecosystem and needs to be considered as a whole,” she stated.

Harper added that the Town and AEP need to work together to produce an understandable process in order to obtain public input.

In a follow up letter, she asked about the town’s plans for yearly ongoing maintenance over the 15-year timespan and what demonstrated competencies would be required in the Town administrator overseeing maintenance in order to avoid the deterioration that occurred over the past four years.

Harper also asked if AEP would be doing any formal inspections of the effects of the repairs on the wetland during the 15 year timeframe and if the town would be required to hold public meetings to outline their plans.

In a letter to Hinton council and administration, Harpers’ husband, Bill Heir, wrote that the public suggested the town hire locally, to provide jobs and keep taxpayers money in the community.

The Associated Environmental Head Office is located in Vernon B.C. and the company has over 1000 employees across Canada, according to their website.

“I, among others, are questioning why this outside source was chosen to both carry out the application and the construction that follows?” Heir wrote.

A news release by the town stated that Associated Engineering was contracted for the purposes of data collection to support the Water Act Application, compiling and drafting of all associated application forms, and to act as liaison in some regards with AEP on behalf of the Town. 

“The Town appreciated Associated Engineerings services, and in their conducting a Water Act comprehension training and site training to provide better understanding to our Parks workers and project managers. This training was also offered to the Beaver Boardwalk Committee,” the release stated.

These consultants have not been contracted to conduct any additional site planning at this time. 

The application does not include any design changes, and only references maintenance to existing structures, said Yaworski.

The application package notes three levels of repairs with the preference towards lowest impact wherever possible in order to make the existing structure safe for continued use by residents. 

“Impacts to the wetland are anticipated to be temporary and will be mitigated throughout construction as noted in the application,” Ziegler stated.

Minor repairs include replacing screws, and installing sections of boardwalk using hand tools, this can be done from the boardwalk or by staff in waders.

Intermediate repairs include replacing sections of boardwalk using a small equipment loader, which would be operated during winter months over frozen conditions where possible.

Replacing sections of boardwalk and pilings using a large loader and auger are part of the major repairs.

Equipment in major repairs would be operated in-water and non-frozen conditions where possible or from new boardwalk structures.

Also included is the install and maintenance of erosion and sediment controls for all boardwalk and trail activities, which can be done using hand tools.

Proposed activities anticipate temporary impacts to wetlands and a potential for sedimentation, soil compaction, and vegetation removal for the repairs, the document said.

The boardwalk upgrades will occur on the existing boardwalk and within 15m, for a total area of 14.46 ha, including temporary work space.

To minimize the disturbance to the wetland during the repairs, wooden planks are to be prepared outside of the wetland and tarps or drop cloths will be used to catch any wood shavings or sawdust created while installing the upgrades.

There will be no use of machinery for minor repairs and walking in the wetland will be avoided when repairs can be done from the boardwalk or upland areas.

Work for the intermediate and major repairs will be conducted during frozen conditions as much as possible and using the smallest machinery feasible.

All instream work activities are planned outside the restricted activity period of Happy Creek, which runs from Sept. 1 to July 15, or during frozen conditions. 

Work site access paths will be dependent on a site to site basis but access from the shoreline would be considered first, the document said.

View below the Water Act Application No. 00463144 for boardwalk repairs at Maxwell Lake:

AEP will notify each person that filed a statement of concern of the decision to accept or reject their written submissions as a valid statement of concern.

The public notice of this application will also be posted here:

Statements of concern submitted regarding this application are public records accessible by the public and applicant.