Sandstone Springs groundwater plan rejected
Foothills: Provincial board upholds decision to cancel water license
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 06:00 am
A provincial board shut down plans to use groundwater wells for a 300-home development west of Okotoks.
The Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled against the developers of the proposed Sandstone Springs community and upheld a decision by Alberta Environment earlier this year to cancel a water license issued for the development. The EAB ruled the initial application for the water license, approved in 2010, was incomplete and the license was issued in error.
MD of Foothills Reeve Larry Spilak said the decision isn’t the end of the road for Sandstone Springs.
“It’s disappointing to hear the results for Sandstone, but it certainly doesn’t bring it to an end,” he said.
The MD of Foothills and developers of the nearby Wind Walk development are working on a plan that could still see Sandstone Springs get water.
Wind Walk and the MD of Foothills have applied to the provincial government to approve a water license transfer on the Highwood River. If approved, Wind Walk’s developers will build a pipeline from the river in the Aldersyde area west along Highway 7 to serve Wind Walk, Sandstone Springs and the Gold Medal commercial development.
Spilak said the proposal could render the EAB’s decision moot.
“That can solve all of the groundwater problems in itself, for Sandstone, Wind Walk and Gold Medal, for that matter,” he said.
In 2009 MD of Foothills council approved an Area Structure Plan for the Sandstone Springs, just west of Okotoks between Big Rock Trail and Highway 7. The Province approved a preliminary certificate for groundwater wells at the development site in 2010. Soon after, the Town of Okotoks appealed the decision over concerns it would impact the Sheep River aquifer and Okotoks’ water supply. In February, Alberta Environment cancelled the certificate. The developer then appeal this decision asking the certificate to be upheld.
Gilbert Van Ness, lawyer for the EAB, said a report was missing from the initial application when the decision was first made. When the report was finally submitted it shed additional light on the situation, showing the groundwater source considered for the development is connected to the Sheep River aquifer and the initial decision to issue the license was cancelled.
“They cancelled it for two grounds, first of all because there was this incomplete information, which in legal terms is material misrepresentation, and second of all because the water was connected to the surface water they weren’t allowed to issue a license for it,” he said. “That’s the error.”
Van Ness said the EAB’s decision is not to be taken to mean the initial application was done in bad faith.
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said the EAB’s decision shows the Town’s assertions the development could impact Okotoks’ water supply were well founded.
“We were of the opinion it was hydrologically connected to the Sheep River just on the west end of town,” he said. “That affects our water supply.”
Hearing set for Wind Walk license
The EAB has scheduled a November hearing for a groundwater license application for the Wind Walk development.
When MD of Foothills council approved the development’s Area Structure Plan in 2010, it allowed the first phase to go ahead using a groundwater source, but required a pipeline for the second and third phases.
Wind Walk’s developers were denied a groundwater license and appealed the decision to the EAB. The board will hold a two-day hearing on Nov. 19 and 20 in Calgary at the Best Western Village Park Inn in Motel Village.
The Town of Okotoks has long argued the development could impact Okotoks’ water supply as well.
“Our contention is that where they will take the water is close enough to the river to make it hydrologically connected and it could affect our wells as they take the water out,” said Robertson.
Wind Walk and the MD are working on the proposed pipeline from the Highwood River, but Okotoks’ mayor said it’s not yet a given because the developer’s application hasn’t been approved by the provincial government.