From: Environmental Planning and Assessment Caucus, CEN Issue 6, Spring 2003

The Forest Fringe Citizens’ Coalition and the SaskPower “PA 8 Rebuild Project”.
Our experience with the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Act

Gerald Regnitter
Friendly Forest

Members of the Forest Fringe Citizens’ Coalition, a coalition of area residents, wood lot operators
and local farmers, have been fighting to save a
unique pocket of transition boreal forest. This
land is south of, and continuous with, the Prince
Albert National Park, which is in the Boreal
Forest Upland region of the province of

In July 1999, SaskPower, a monopoly provincial
Power Corporation, announced a plan to
upgrade an existing 72kVolt line that runs 240
km from Prince Albert to La Ronge. SaskPower
proposed to create a new and very destructive
corridor, 70 to 80 m (230+ feet) wide through the
forest, ignoring the advice of area residents that
the line should go over low-sensitivity, already
opened lands, several kilometres to the east.
This route would also be at least 500 m from any

The Struggle Begins

In August 1999, over 100 families and individuals
formed the Forest Fringe Citizens’ Coalition
(FFCC), hoping to be heard by SaskPower and
political leaders. Goals and principles were
established that urged routing through low
impact lands in a way that would respect forest,
homes and people. The principles emphasized that
forest lands should be avoided as much as
possible because of the significantly greater
damage to forest environments compared to
lands with habitats already completely altered by
agricultural practices.

Over the past several years SaskPower did
everything that large corporations can do to
crush opposition.

SaskPower’s Proposals

SaskPower divided the project into two parts.
The northern portion, running exclusively through
public forest lands, received Government
approval and is already completed. The southern
portion, through private lands, was to receive
further study by a firm of Consulting Biologists
(ERIN Consulting), and by the Transmission Line
Routing Review Panel, set up to advise
SaskPower about its routing procedures.

SaskPower held “Open House” sessions at which
they advised landowners of their plans. These
sessions included a lot of engineering detail and
other technical information overload. The review
of SaskPower’s procedures by the Review Panel,
declared these “Open House” sessions to be
designed by SaskPower to assess the degree of
opposition to their plans, rather than to facilitate
any kind of two-way communication. SaskPower
officials made comments to landowners along
one route proposal that seemed to be pitting one
resident against someone living along another
route. SaskPower used expressions and
provided information in a manner that often hid
the true impact of their statements.

The ERIN Consulting report declared that the
forest routes were the most sensitive to damage
by a power line corridor. SaskPower’s proposed
corridors crossed the largest mature conifer
forest area in the Boreal Upland Forest in this
region. This forest has had 12 different rare and
endangered species sightings. This report
further indicated that line routing through this
general area could minimize damage only by
avoiding the areas of continuous forest.

Based on this assessment by SaskPower’s own
“experts”, the members of the FFCC felt that an
acceptable route could be selected. However, in
June 2001, SaskPower announced that two of
three options they were looking at ploughed
directly through the most sensitive forest lands in
the region.

The Chosen Route

In mid August 2001, SaskPower announced its
chosen route, which in this area of the project,
goes completely through the forest, affects the
most private property, comes closer to more
homes and does the most environmental

SaskPower had no intention of ever listening to
anyone who opposed their original intentions of
building the line on the highest ground (near the
highway), and in as direct a manner as possible,
regardless of the impact on the area and on
people. SaskPower has effectively manipulated
their political “masters” to get what they wanted.
They are used to getting their way by political
influence or by the use of expropriation powers.
The Citizens’ Coalition has been trying to get the
power line routed in the way that does the least
damage to environment, and to how people live
in the forest. The Coalition has held public meetings, conducted letter-writing campaigns to SaskPower and to politicians at local and provincial levels, conducted e-mail campaigns, used a website to share information and to share images of the affected area, visited the Provincial Legislature, gathered a petition with over 1000 signatures, sent many fax messages, and made numerous phone calls to many people involved in the decision-making process.

The Coalition has toured provincial and local
politicians through this area so that they could
see first-hand what is at stake, and has met with
the Saskatchewan Environment and Resource
Management (SERM) Regulator to have him
directly hear Coalition concerns and arguments.
Throughout the past several years we have had
media coverage. We have received advice from
David Suzuki and others on how to conduct our

SERM has decided to give fast-track approval to
SaskPower, subject to 23 mitigating conditions.
These conditions, required to bring the
environmental damage “to a tolerable level”,
have fully validated the concerns raised by the
Forest Fringe Citizens’ Coalition over these past
several years.

Public Awareness

A “Forest of Protest – Adopt-a-Tree” campaign
was started in late August 2001, and by the end
of January 2002 had nearly 1900 trees adopted
on private property through which SaskPower is
planning to build its line. The Saskatchewan
Government and SaskPower have chosen to
ignore these protests.

By mid February 2002, SaskPower had begun its
destruction of the forest. Only a successful court
challenge by some “third party” might force a full
environmental impact study to be conducted.
The members of the Forest Fringe Citizens’
Coalition and all other citizens who have
supported this effort, trusted in elected
government to protect people and environment
from the unnecessary and wanton destruction of
forest by SaskPower planners. This trust has
been betrayed.

The members of the Forest Fringe Citizens’
Coalition, while not successful in stopping this
project, have raised awareness of vital issues of
environment and governance that may yet lead
to future gains. All persons who have been part
of this effort are winners, and the members of the
Coalition wish to thank them for their generous
support of this cause.

Issues arising from our experience with the
Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment
Act and SaskPower’s PA Rebuild

A “Proponent” plans and proposes a project with
very little input from concerned and affected
communities. Once a project has been planned,
efforts have to be directed to correct
inappropriate elements rather than having proper
input at the outset to give it a sounder initial
direction. (Cf. Transmission Line Routing
Review Panel’s Report and recommendations)

The Proponent’s submission to SERM for review
contains information, study data and arguments
for the project. In our experience with the
SaskPower submission to SERM, the submission
contained significant errors of fact and other
arguments that did not stand the test of further
investigation. While the Forest Fringe Citizens’
Coalition was able to bring a number of these
considerations to the light of day, the SERM
Regulator’s efforts to pursue these matters led to
the following statement in the “Reasons for
Decision” portion of the SERM “Opinion
regarding the PA8 Project:

“Local concerns have reflected the concerns
of the technical reviewers and have also
challenged aspects of the proponent’s
proposal. Some of these challenges have
required the proponent to restate / clarify /
rectify various statements. Their active
involvement in the process has assisted in
clarifying their concerns over environmental
change and focus mitigation activity.”

These corrections, which led to the mitigation
conditions of the decision, would likely not have
surfaced without the independent intervention
from the FFCC. This leads to the concern: Who
will challenge the accuracy of proponent
claims when there is no organized group of
concerned citizens?

Who protects the public interest in this regard if the SERM review process is unable or unlikely to uncover the errors or misrepresentations?

The Proponent was responsible for submitting
most of the environmental data submitted with
the proposal. In this case, ERIN Consulting did
the work that was included in the submission. It
is of interest to note that the chief field biologist
on this assignment from ERIN, Ms. Michelle
Williamson, has taken up a new role as a full time
employee of SaskPower and has been signing
recent documents as a member of the
SaskPower Project team. While this change of
employment immediately after the completion of
the ERIN role does not prove wrongdoing, it
certainly raises the question as to the integrity of
the materials submitted and the conclusions
reached by ERIN.

As long as SERM is required to rely in part or
in whole for environmental evaluations on agencies hired by the proponent, the information provided must been seen as suspect.

Perhaps a better arrangement would be for
the proponent to fund the
biological/environmental studies required,
but that the contracting and supervision of
these people be done by SERM.

Throughout the process, there seemed to be too
little support to protect the public interest, and too
much reliance on the integrity of the claims and
submissions of the proponent. We have no
doubt that if the FFCC had not undertaken its
efforts, the SaskPower project would have ripped
through the forest as first planned for the winter
of 1999 with none of the mitigation factors finally
required by SERM.

It is of note that the mitigation factors identified in
the SERM “Opinion” reflect the issues raised by
the FFCC, and have not been applied to Phase I
of the project, and apparently not to other parts
of the forest beyond the inhabited area. This is
one continuous forest, and if the mitigation is
valid for one portion of the project, it is certainly
also valid for the remainder of the line. It is fact
that the demonstrated public concern for this
portion of the line was able to protect some
public interests in this area, but how is the
public interest served when there is no
citizen-based opposing group to mount a
massive campaign of concern and protest?

The mitigating conditions forced on SaskPower
for this short corridor through the forest do not
satisfy the concerns of the FFCC because it is
still permitting a route that does massive and
unnecessary damage to this sensitive forest. If
such mitigation was justified in this case, they
should also automatically apply to any similar
developments in the forest fringe and boreal
forest zones of this province.

Such mitigations should be required as automatic restrictions on other projects without the need for repeated interventions by citizen groups such as the FFCC.

Because this project / development also creates
a cleared forest corridor adjacent to private
holdings and through other sections of private
forests, it has raised the consideration of what
happens on “private lands” which also has
significant impact on a larger area and the larger
environment. We have seen the ineffectiveness
of a municipal bylaw prohibiting clear cutting on
private forest lands in the Rural Municipality (RM)
of Lakeland, and the subsequent difficulties of
the RM when it tried to reinforce the nature of its
supervision of forestry development in the RM’s
private lands.

There is something very much awry when the idea of private property rights are able to override the environmental impact considerations of the larger community as represented by the Rural Municipality.
There should be a re-examination of the authority
exercised by municipalities or exercised by
municipalities in conjunction with SERM to
effectively protect the environmental interests of
the large area and the larger community. While
we have witnessed this unhealthy situation in a
forest area, we are sure that it is equally a
concern in other eco-regions in Saskatchewan.

“Private” property considerations in our legislation
may have been written considering the private
land owner as a local resident who would have some level of community responsibility and some level of community control by virtue of being a continuing resident of the community. We have seen absentee owners and corporate owners with no links or commitments to the local community
exercising “private rights” to the great expense
and detriment of the local environment and

In the 21'st century, our legislation should
reflect these new understandings of
responsibility to the common good of the
larger community.

For more information, please contact Gerald
Regnitter at Friendly Forest, Box 289,
Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan, S0J 0N0, Tel:
(306) 982-3614; E-mail:;