AEP review prompts gravel removal

Masha Scheele

Gravel was hauled out of the area near Maxwell Lake on March 20 and 21 after The Town of Hinton received a request from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) to remove additional gravel from the trail on both sides of the new bridge.

After work was completed for the pedestrian bridge earlier this year, AEP visited the site to review the project and while the bridge was approved, confusion around the amount of gravel used prompted the request for removal, according to Hinton administration.

AEP could not comment on the specific matter as it is under investigation stated John Muir, Director of Communications at AEP through email.

Initially, a Qualified Aquatic Environmental Specialists (QAES) document was submitted to AEP in May 2018 in order to receive the code of practice for watercourse crossings form needed to approve the project.

“The QAES included the drawings and description of the project, and any other applicable information,” stated Hinton Communications and Strategic Advisor, Emily Olsen in an email.

The Hinton Voice has requested the QAES in order to see the description of the approved bridge and ramps, but administration had not made this public before Voice press deadline.

Along with the code of practice, a geotechnical study was sent to AEP, done by Hoggan Engineering & Testing in 2018 outlining the general soil conditions and geotechnical recommendations for a wooden pedestrian bridge replacement.

According to Muir from AEP, under the Water (Ministerial) Regulation, an activity doesn’t require approval for placing, constructing, installing, maintaining, replacing or removing of a watercourse crossing if the activity is commenced, continued and carried out in accordance with the Code of Practice for Watercourse Crossings.

The code of practice indicates requirements that must be adhered to, including reporting of contraventions, restricted activity periods and notices where works is not completed within time periods, stated Muir.

Olsen stated in an email that the project followed the process requirements that AEP set out, but again AEP could not comment on the matter.

Muir stated that a project owner is required under the Code of Practice to notify the director in writing at least 14 days prior to the commencement, and once that condition is met, the activity may be carried out as proposed and no written approval is required for the project.

According to administration, AEP did not contact the town within that 14-day waiting period and thus the project was permitted to move forward.

The bridge was approved by council as a one-time operating cost in the 2018 budget, but didn’t move forward until approval from AEP was obtained.

A second code of practice extended the date in which the project could be carried out.

“The bridge itself was confirmed to be acceptable and can be left as is,” stated Olsen about the review by AEP.

Professor of Conservation Biology, Lee Foote from the University of Alberta said in a phone call that the concern with gravel is largely due to drainage issues, as erosion could carry the gravel into the wetland.

He added that gravel can chemically alter water quality if unwashed, fill the wetland by reducing water volume or flows, alter the ecological attributes or wetland function by covering wetland soils with a different substrate and affecting plant communities, insect use, and fisheries use.

“If it is a small amount and washes in over time, it may be a very minor effect,” he stated.

“The Town is working on a temporary solution to provide safe public access to the Maxwell Lake Pedestrian Bridge. Design for a permanent ramp is also being considered at this time, however the timeline for completion has not been determined yet,” stated Martin Taylor, CAO Town of Hinton