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No timeline for boardwalk decision: AEP

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) staff met with the Town of Hinton on Sept. 4 to discuss some detailed information for the Town’s Water Act Approval application that remains outstanding. 

The information requested by AEP was meant to ensure the application meets all standards and requirements. 

“We are unable to provide a timeline for a final decision on this application, as the department is waiting for outstanding information from the proponent,” stated Jason Penner, AEP communications advisor.

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.

In April, AEP suggested that a decision on Hinton’s Water Act application for sections of the Beaver Boardwalk was estimated to be made within four to eight weeks. That timeframe has come and gone and no new timeline has been presented.

The Town of Hinton and Associated Engineering’s Environment department submitted the application for a Water Act approval on Oct. 28, 2019 to AEP.

AEP reviewed the application before it went through a public notice process this spring.

Several residents sent in their statements of concern, and the next step would be for AEP to direct the applicant, which is the Town of Hinton and Associated Engineering, to work with the concerned party to reasonably address the concerns. 

It is unclear if the Town has worked with those individuals, but AEP and the Town did meet last week to discuss details of the application.

The Town of Hinton was initially contacted Sept. 1 for comment on the outstanding application, and again on Sept. 8, but did not respond before The Hinton Voice press deadline.

The Water Act Approval is necessary to complete any work on the boardwalk, including basic maintenance.

Administration stated back in April 2019 that one-time repairs are not adequate to maintain the boardwalk for public use, and that reserve funds used for annual repairs could be better utilized.

Various environmental implications come along with maintaining the current structure, such as additional vegetation damage, potential wildlife avoidance during construction, and a repetitive regulatory approval process for access and repairs being required on a constant basis. 

Throughout the past 12 years, maintenance work was done without approval from AEP, this includes work like replacing boards, lifting sections by putting blocks under, or cutting off posts that are pushed out. 

The warping, slumping, and heaving boardwalk in various locations forced administration to close certain sections in the spring of 2019.

Once the water act application was filed, AEP suggested some answers would be provided by December, but that did not happen. The application package included three levels of potential repairs with the preference towards lowest impact wherever possible. Impacts to the wetland are anticipated to be temporary and will be mitigated throughout construction, as noted in the application.

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.

The application also included the install and maintenance of erosion and sediment controls for all boardwalk and trail activities which can be done using hand tools.

The application stated that the proposed activities anticipate temporary impacts to wetlands and a potential for sedimentation, soil compaction, and vegetation removal for the repairs.

The boardwalk upgrades take up 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 performed from the boardwalk or upland areas.

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.