Wind Walk water appeal denied

MD of Foothills: Pipeline from Aldersyde next likely solution

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014 06:00 am

Developers of the proposed Wind Walk project lost their appeal to secure a water licence due to its impact on the Sheep River aquifer.
Developers of the proposed Wind Walk project lost their appeal to secure a water licence due to its impact on the Sheep River aquifer.
Wheel file photo

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A proposed 450-home development south of Okotoks will have to go to Plan B for its water supply.

The Alberta Environmental Appeals Board denied a request by Wind Walk’s developer to reverse a decision not to allow a licence to use groundwater wells for the proposed community’s first phase.

Monday’s decision reaffirms the ground water source considered for the development, located just south of Okotoks along Highway 7, is connected to a surface water source — in this case the Sheep River aquifer, one of the major sources of water for Okotoks. A provincial moratorium prevents the approval of new surface water licenses in the Bow River basin.

Seth Atkins, a director of the Holmes Group, the developers for Wind Walk, wasn’t stunned by the decision and insists it is still full-steam ahead for the proposed development.

“This was something we were just pursuing because we thought we were in the right and had sufficient evidence, but the appeal board just disagreed,” Atkins said. “We went into it knowing it was about a 50-50 chance and we were prepared for the decision either way.”

Wind Walk developers will continue to work with the MD of Foothills to find a solution using a pipeline drawing water from the Highwood River near Aldersyde.

“The process is going on longer than we had hoped for, but we are going to proceed with our vision,” he said.

Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said its participation in the appeal was to protect the town’s water.

“We are doing our best to preserve the town’s water supply as it is,” Robertson said. “If what they were trying to do is under the influence of the Sheep River, that could impact our wells in times of drought in particular.

“We are going to have to find a way to move forward together.”

MD of Foothills Reeve Larry Spilak said the decision means one option has been closed, but the door hasn’t been slammed shut on the development.

“That was one of two solutions, either groundwater or pipeline and now the developer is down to one solution,” Spilak said. “I guess they will make the decision now as to whether they will build the pipeline.”

The pipeline could also potentially supply water for the proposed Sandstone Springs development west of Okotoks and the Gold Medal commercial development just west of the Wind Walk site.

A water licence for Sandstone Springs was denied in 2013 because it was ruled it was taking water from the Sheep River aquifer. Spilak said he felt there were solid reasons to for the Wind Walk appeal to be approved.

“I wasn’t too sure how the board would rule on this,” Spilak said.

Board lawyer Gilbert Van Nes said a moratorium in place for southern Alberta covers the Bow, South Saskatchewan and Oldman river systems where all of the surface water has been allocated.

“As a result, the only way to get any new water licences from Alberta Environment for a project like this, country residential, is to find what we colloquially refer to a true, new groundwater source, where it isn’t readily connected to surface,” Van Nes said.

He said one of the concerns the board had, which was shared by Alberta Environment, was if the licence was issued now, it could interfere with Okotoks’ water supply five years down the road.

“That means we could have to cancel the licence on this development and all of a sudden we have 300 homes that don’t have a water supply,” he said.

The appeal hearings were held Nov. 19 and 20 in Calgary. The cost to the Town still has to be determined.


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