AER delays among top concerns at Peace River meeting
South Peace News
Delayed approvals from Alberta Environment and Parks that have been costing municipalities extra money were among the top concerns highlighted at a Peace River round table on red tape reduction.
Peace River MLA Dan Williams held the event as part of the new United Conservative government’s commitment to reducing red tape. The round table to take public input was held at the Belle Petroleum Centre in Peace River Sept. 10. Williams also held a round table at the Nova Inn in Manning earlier the same day.
In addition to giving their feedback at the event, attendees were also asked to provide a written submission to be shared with the Hon. Grant Hunter, Minister of Red Tape Reduction.
Peace River – Westlock MP Arnold Viersen attended the Peace River meeting, as did council members from both the Town of Peace River and Northern Sunrise County.
Williams was introduced by the second vice chairman of the Peace River & District Chamber of Commerce, Layne Gardner.
“I’m mostly here to listen,” Williams told about 30 attendees at the meeting.
The Peace River MLA said his government has already amassed 3,500 applications to reduce red tape and has started action on about 1,000 of them.
“We know that red tape is a huge obstacle to bringing investment, to people doing business, to not-for-profits, for churches, for community groups, for government agencies within the provincial, in federal or even municipal levels exercising their role in society so I want to make sure that we don’t have needless red tape,” he said.
The UCP has committed to reducing regulations in Alberta by one-third, but Williams said he’d like to see even more regulations taken out.
“If we look at jurisdictions that have had the most success in reducing red tape, if we look at Texas and other European jurisdictions that have done a great job of this, they have a ratio, some of them, as high as 30:1 for the amount of red tape they remove for every new piece of red tape that they bring in, because regulations are inevitable, they happen when you pass laws. What we want to make sure that what we have on the books for regulations … isn’t a mountain ever growing but is really just what we need.”
Williams added he wanted to see a shift in the culture of how regulations are interpreted and enforced.
“Instead of a culture trying to cooperate with industry, or with other forms of government to make sure that we come to a solution, we end up with the culture is we want to find them or we want to catch people for crossing the line. I would rather have prov governments working with industry and all their stakeholders to make sure they come to the same conclusion and they sort of help guide industry or stakeholders through the compliance piece rather than trying to catch them out on it.”
Northern Sunrise County Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba told Williams the county has had a lot of problems with delays in project approvals from Alberta Environment and Parks [AER].
“That is an issue for us because if we do something to a road or whatever the regulations to now move that road forward, either through the culvert system or whatever trickle of water might be there, it’s just overkill. It absolutely is, and something needs to be streamlined there if we can get the process moving faster. It does not go well for municipalities when we say we’re going to do a road and we have to sit and wait for months,” she said.
The reeve identified a recent project in Little Buffalo as an example.
“That took forever to get done because you don’t have any staff. There’s a problem in the environment staff. Either you’re not replacing them or the people that are there are just twiddling their thumbs because it took us a year.
“It should have been done in a month,” she said.
Northern Sunrise County CAO Cindy Millar said delays mean more costs for municipalities.
“So that project cost us over a million dollars more because of price increases. We waited over a year for regulatory approval on that, that we had to eat,” Millar said.
She said adding more local staff on the ground would help reduce the red tape causing delayed approvals.
“There’s two people from an office of seven. It was cut down to two people to handle the whole province for applications. We’re not the only municipality that’s faced that. It gets run through Edmonton or Calgary instead of through the local office when there is local staff that used to be able to do the authorizations and approvals,” she said.
County Councillor Dan Boisvert said recent plans to abandon and remove an old ATCO pipeline on Judah Hill have also been delayed by the slow AER approval process.
“We got an e-mail just recently, it was all planned for September, it would affect about 38 customers who would have to shut gas off to Marie Reine for two days to remove that line and reboot, but now they can’t because they didn’t get approval from AER. So if there’s a slide right now, that line is still considered active,” he said.
“Now how long does it take to say, go ahead, take the line out. It’s a no-brainer. Is it because they’re not responding fast enough? So to me there is a delay in AER, they’re backed up.”
Boisvert pointed out a month delay could become a six-month delay due to the northern winter preventing work from being done on the pipeline.
County Councillor Corinna Williams also mentioned adding local staff as a way to streamline approvals.
“I know you can’t answer the past government but can the new government bring the local people back to the offices here? It’s very difficult for someone to make a decision when they have no idea what’s up north. They don’t know what we look like, they don’t know how we operate,” she said.
“We need to make sure they have the locals who know the area to make these decisions.”
Northern Sunrise councillors also identified a need for local assessors, asked for more consultations with municipalities on changes before they happen so they can provide more input, and highlighted stalls in the dispersement of grants, especially to the water alliance, as preventing work from being done in a timely fashion due to lack of funding certainty.
Shelly Shannon also raised the issue of grant money on behalf of the Peace River Air Monitoring Program.
She read from PRAMP’s submission, which stated, “Each year, Airsheds are invited to apply to Alberta Environment and Parks for a grant to support Airshed operations. To date, grant applications have only been approved for a one-year time period. PRAMP requests that the government revise its internal policy and processes to allow for three-year grant approvals to reduce the administrative burden and to provide operational certainty for organizations that provide ongoing, long-term services.”
Shannon said longer term commitments for grants will enable PRAMP to keep one local staff contractor to focus on education and outreach, and longer grants would also benefit other not-for-profit organizations in the province by providing stability.
Transportation concerns were also raised by people in attendance, including the delay in driver tests and the new cost of Class 1 license which has gone up to $10,000, both due to changes made since the Humboldt tragedy which took local hero Darcy Haugan’s life.
MLA Williams said the concern about accessing driver tests was one he was hearing most throughout the constituency, and said he was advocating to hire more driver examiners in the north to solve the problem.
“The hope is we can hire a whole bunch more very soon in the near future,” he said.
The higher cost of a Class 1 license and other new requirements were also issues Viersen stood up and spoke about.
“If a guy knows how to drive a truck, making him spend $10,000 to sit in a classroom for 30 hours isn’t going to make him a better truck driver,” Viersen said.
Viersen identified volunteer firefighter training as another area where he’d like to see regulations reduced because right now he thinks the training requirements are too onerous.
“It’s a religion. If you’re not prepared to give up every weekend you will not be a volunteer firefighter,” he said.
Williams will be holding more round tables in Grimshaw at the Grimshaw Business Centre on Sept. 23 in cooperation with the Grimshaw & District Chamber of Commerce, and in La Crete at “The Barn” Sept. 30.