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County against highway re-alignment, not freeway status

Kirsten Mundy

Standard Editor

After looking at the plans, hearing the concerns and understanding the facts, Wheatland County council will be making a request that the proposed alignment of Highway 1 remain within its present corridor.

"Nobody I talked to was in favor of it," said Reeve Ben Armstrong.

The concerns Wheatland County will be expressing in their letter of opposition to the proposed re-alignment, are in line with the County's policies. They are not interested in seeing farmland fragmented, or removed from production just to make the highway wider, and provide another option to enter Calgary from the east. The plan would join Highway 1 with Highway 22X once completed.

The example used for what is happening, although it could be quite different after completion, is what happened south of Calgary with Highway 2 and MacLeod Trail.

"We would prefer it here (present location), that is our motion," said Councillor Glenn Koester. "We represent the public and this is our motion. Maybe that will have more impact because we're a county."

County Manager of Infrastructure and Transportation, Dave Churchill, said requesting that Alberta Transportation keep the highway within its present right-of-way is just about the only thing they can do.

"We're not opposed to the designation of freeway status. We are opposed to the fragmentation of farmland to achieve that," said Armstrong.

The motion to make that request was approved unanimously, and will be sent as soon as possible.

A major concern for landowners within the possibly affected areas was the time it will take to know what is, or isn't, going to be affected.

"If it's two years I guess they can live with that," said Councillor Glenn Koester.

"If we can find out, somehow, what the timeline is, it would be nice to have a letter out there for our ratepayers, with a date."

A letter to that affect may be difficult to obtain, said Henry Devos, Division Manager with McElhanny Consulting services, the company hired to complete the study about this highway re-alignment.

The process will likely see completion of the study by fall next year, at which point it will be submitted to the province for approval. It's the approval process that Devos said he has no control over, and can't even guess as to how long that could take.

The other reality is that once the plan is approved, there is no way to say when the road would be built.

"The province doesn't ask us when they should spend money," said Devos. "There are other bypass plans already approved. and those need to be funded."

The plan is looking to create two options for entering Calgary from the east, Highway 1 and Highway 22X. This would be very similar to what was done to allow people to use Highway 2 and MacLeod Trail south of Calgary. To accomplish that, the present route for Highway 1 would dramatically change around Gleichen, and would mean a lot of agricultural land would be taken out of production.

"There are some very real concerns we're going to have to deal with," said Devos. "I couldn't begin to understate the concerns these people have. We don't simply discard public information we don't like."

Those concerns are quite wide in range, but the biggest ones were surrounding what farms can do, knowing at some point in the future their land could have a freeway running through it.

"What we're showing tonight are concepts. We want to show people intent, we're not trying to show them a plan," said Devos.

That plan could mean the difference between expansion and selling an operation for some area farmers.

Councillor Ken Sauve, who represents the area east of Strathmore up to Gleichen surrounding Highway 1 said he had the chance to speak with a few landowners during the open house.

"Our concern is with the disruption of agricultural lands. The landowners in my division are adamantly opposed to this, so what do we do?" asked Sauve of council. "I don't want to miss the window we may have to possibly stop this."

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