The new Highway 55/813 interchange still requires approval from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) before construction can legally begin, an official confirmed last week.
When construction projects impact fish habitats, the DFO must give approval to cause “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction” (HADD) of fish habitat, said Brian Makowecki, acting district manager for the DFO.
“Basically, the way the Fisheries Act works is you can not destroy, harmfully alter or impact in a negative way fish habitat without approval from the minister,” said Makowecki.
In the case of this project, a two-part process must be undertaken, said Makowecki.
First, Alberta Transportation must complete a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) application, followed by a Fisheries Act application.
Before interchange construction can commence, a CEAA screening must be completed so the builder and government both understand what the environmental situation of the project will be, said Makowecki.
“They can certainly tender the project without having the CEAA complete, but they shouldn’t be doing work on that project until (the CEAA) is complete,” Makowecki said.
The CEAA for the Highway 55/813 project is not yet complete, said Makowecki.
“We are close to being able to complete the CEAA process, but from the DFO’s perspective, there’s still some outstanding information,” he said.
“Basically what we have to be able to do is be satisfied that we can sign off a CEAA screening; that we would be in a comfortable enough position to understand whether we expect significant adverse environment effects.”
The Fisheries Act says the project does not need to have HADD authorization to begin, however if a HADD occurs without authorization, then the proponent may be guilty of an offence punishable by a fine of up to $1,000,000, up to six months’ imprisonment, or a combination of both.
In order to mitigate the loss of fish spawning habitat, Alberta Transportation has provided DFO with plans to build a pike spawning marsh off to the side of the river, said Makowecki.
“They have got some professional advice from an environmental consultant to say they can build a pike spawning marsh,” said Makowecki. “What we hope they are able to achieve with that is some slower water, that is going to be lost as a result of straightening the channel.”
Local environmental group, the Tawatinaw Watershed Stewards (TWS), argue that to prevent negative impact from the proposed interchange development, a less invasive alternative should be pursued which does not include disturbance to the river channel or riparian area.
“We were approached in the fall of 2009 to do some research into the proposed river realignment, and what kind of implications that would have for the town and river itself,” said Janice Pitman of the TWS.
“The opinion of the Tawatinaw Stewards is that if the bridge was replaced where it is, it would be a lot less detrimental for the watershed as well as for the town, and it could have been accomplished a lot faster because they wouldn’t have had to do all this surveying and looking into the detrimental effects of re-channeling,” added Jessica Ashmead, also with the TWS.
“That would affect the channel a small amount, but a lot less then their proposed plan, and for a lot less time,” said Ashmead.