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History, heights and an endangered species meet on Sulphur Mountain

Oct 14, 2015, 20:36 PM

“My dad built this power line up Banff’s Sulphur Mountain in 1957, so it’s ironic that I’m a small part of rebuilding it 58 years later,” says Doug Skippen, Manager Environment. “Times have certainly changed and the environmental hoops that you need to jump through to build a power line in a National Park today are considerable, but somehow Denis has managed to keep the project on track.”

One of the major challenges that Denis Andre, Environmental Coordinator has faced on this project is protecting a species of tree, the whitebark pine.  This species is on the Federal Government’s protected species list which means that all of the protected trees had to be identified and tagged. Operations developed methods to work around the trees while satisfying Parks Canada’s requirements. 

Brian Howes was the on-site Area Coordinator, and Michael Stephens was the Project Manager. FortisAlberta contracted the use of a specialized piece of construction machinery called the Spidex. “This machine can navigate steep terrain with minimal impact to the ground. It can also dig the necessary holes for the new power line,” says Brian. 

Sulphur Mountain is well-known for its Gondola which takes visitors up to a tea house and interpretive centre. The outdated 5 kV power line was in need of an upgrade for the past 10 years to a 25 kV line. While planning the line rejuvenation, all options were reviewed including an underground power line and how to best work on a steep mountain side where there are hikers and a high volume of visitors. 

In 2011, we cleared the power line’s right-of-way to ensure safety and reliability of the service. That opened up the dense forest and gave whitebark pine seeds, which flourish in open, sunny areas, a chance to grow. There are roughly 245 trees, 190 of them seedlings that required mitigation for this project. 

Denis explains, “We did an Environmental Assessment before we could begin. We had to mark and GPS each tree and build a plan to avoid, move or work around every tree. In a few cases we are transplanting seedlings away from areas that will be dug up to give the trees a chance of survival.” 

This is a unique project for FortisAlberta, because not only is it in a National Park, but the endangered species we are working with in this case, is a species of tree. “We are used to working with animal species at risk like those around the Medicine Hat area,” explains Doug. “I will also be thinking of my dad and just how much harder the work used to be without the help of the kind of resources we have today.”

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