Fishy federal communication upends Pincher Creek water projects

·3 min read

Every angler knows that the universal enemy to a good cast is snagging your line on a protruding log or tree branch. As council for the Town of Pincher Creek found out, however, breaks along communication lines between governments can also upend the best-laid plans.

During the April 7 committee of the whole meeting, council and administration discussed the best course of action after the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans designated most of the Rocky Mountain watershed area as critical habitat for bull trout. The designation was officially published March 31.

Labelling the area as critical habitat significantly impacts the regulatory process municipalities and companies must go through for any projects along waterways in the region, including any work the town will pursue along the creek.

The news alters many big-ticket capital projects the town has planned, including a proposed storm-drainage upgrade from Church Avenue to Poplar Avenue. The project most affected, however, is re-grading part of the ag society grounds so run-off from the area is diverted downstream from the water plant’s intake pipe.

With the changes, no run-off will be permitted to flow directly from the property into the creek, necessitating some type of protection like a retention pond. The additional work will, of course, cost more money.

Although affecting important infrastructure work, the town has no issues with stricter regulations, said Al Roth, director of operations. The issue was the lack of communication from DFO.

“What’s good for the fish is good for us,” he said. “We really support that, we know the value of their input, but the way we sort of stumbled onto it is disconcerting.”

The only reason the town found out about the redesignation, added Alexa Levair, capital project and asset co-ordinator, was because a contracted engineering firm discovered it while double-checking project designs.

“It was a shock to us; we were not notified by the DFO,” said Ms. Levair. “When we talked to Alberta Environment, they hadn’t been notified either. So we were caught quite off guard.”

Though council expressed concern the designation would also affect recently announced plans to run a water line under the creek, the initial indication is that the project will go ahead unhindered. Due to erosion over the years, the water line has become exposed, opening it up to the possibility of freezing during the winter months.

While supporting the overall premise of protecting bull trout habitation, council members questioned if Pincher Creek could reasonably be considered bull trout habitat.

“I fished Pincher Creek a lot when I was a kid, and so did my brothers, and I don’t think any of us ever caught a bull trout,” said Coun. Lorne Jackson.

“If there’s a legitimate reason to suspect that the creek should be designated as a bull trout critical habitat, then we should be able to have some proof of that,” added Coun. Brian McGillivray. “But if that doesn’t exist, if it was someone making an arbitrary decision on a land map in Ottawa, then we should have that error corrected.”

Coun. McGillivray also related discussions he’d had with Foothills MP John Barlow, who recommended sending a letter to the DFO office about how the designation was disrupting project plans. Mr. Barlow said he would then be able to follow up with the DFO minister personally to see if the projects could continue as planned.

Council directed administration to write such a letter and send it as soon as possible, with copies also to be sent to Alberta Environment and Parks and to Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze