It’s been over 30 years in the planning stage, but the Special Areas Water Supply Project (SAWSP) appears to be approaching its climax.
The project, which, in a nutshell, calls for water to be pipelined from the Red Deer River to Special Areas 2, 3 and 4 in east central Alberta for a variety of uses, has been under the care of the Special Areas Board.
Recently, the board organized public consultation meetings in the Towns of Consort, Hanna and Oyen to present the mammoth amount of data associated with the project, including a 3,700 page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Maeghan Chostner, communications officer, Special Areas Board, attended the public meetings.
She said the board realizes the gargantuan footprint of the Special Areas and wanted to give ratepayers and stakeholders a chance to get updated on the project in their home areas.
The meetings were also a great way to get their questions answered. “I think they went really well,” said Chostner by phone Mar. 12.
She said the public information sessions were well-attended and she got the impression for those present they were pleased with the events.
Special Areas Board chair Jordan Christianson agreed.
“These community information sessions gave us a chance to share an update on the project with our local communities and ratepayers, and to talk about what some of these key findings could mean for the viability of the project,” stated Christianson in a press release Mar. 11.
“We have reached a critical milestone for SAWSP, and what we need now is to hear from our ratepayers what they think the next steps for the project should be.”
The EIA, available at the public meetings, was a very big part of the gatherings, and Chostner said the size of the report reflects its importance.
It’s broken into four volumes and, at 3,700 pages, is too big to offer online. However, ratepayers can find a copy of the EIA at Special Areas district offices.
Chostner stated that what the consultants found, looking at the environmental aspect of the project, there were not any real “red flags” to the Special Areas Water Supply Project.
Another part of the EIA included a socio-economic summary.
She said that part has some challenging numbers and a lot of the conversation at the public meetings revolved around this.
A “cost-benefit” ratio is also included, which balances the cost of the project versus the benefits of it.
Chostner noted cost-benefit ratios are used as factors in deciding the value of a project from an investment perspective.
The environmental assessment was requested by the Alberta cabinet in 2011.
The public input sessions ultimately offered ratepayers and stakeholders a choice of three options for the water project moving forward.
The Special Areas Board is continuing to gather public input on these three options up to Mar. 31 and Chostner noted an online survey is the main avenue for that.
The survey is available online at www.specialareas.ab.ca.
However, for those stakeholders who don’t want to go online, paper copies of the survey are available at Special Areas district offices.
“We definitely try to make it accessible to people of all technology levels,” added Chostner.
Stu Salkeld, LJI reporter