What Projects Need HRA Approval, or “Clearance”?

As Consulting Archaeologists, most of our work supports “regulatory compliance”.  We help developers get government approval by assessing and mitigating potential impacts to historic resource sites.  I’m frequently asked by developers whether a specific project requires Historical Resource Act Approval (or “Clearance”, as it was known before 2012).

This isn’t as easy a question as one might think.  Different projects have different levels of impact, and not every development requires approval.  Guidelines for developers are spread across numerous Bulletins and buried in the Instructions for Use of the Listing of Historic Resources.  To make life easier, I thought I’d try to summarize these rules in one place.  Please keep in mind that HRA regulations are constantly changing, so this is a snapshot of the state of the system in spring 2020. If you know of another trigger, or a development class I’ve missed, please let me know.

Alberta Culture uses a variety of triggering mechanisms.  The key tool for determining HRA Requirements is the Listing of Historic Resources.   The Listing was originally developed as a screening tool for small-scale oil and gas.  In response to requests from industry and regulatory agencies to provide more transparency and certainty, Culture is moving towards using the Listing for a wider range of developments. 

Parcels of land are registered on the Listing with a Historic Resource Value (HRV).  HRVs are ranked from 1 through 4  for known sites, or 5 for lands believed to contain a site (high potential).  Each entry on the Listing also has a class, which represents the type of resource.  Historic resources can include archaeological sites, paleontological sites, Traditional Land Use Areas, and historic buildings.  (You can read more about different types of resources here).  There are still many areas of Alberta that have historic resources potential that are not included in the Listing.  This is only one of of the many tools used during the screening process.

DeerMountain_HRV.jpeg
An example of the Listing of Historic Resources from Deer Mountain, near Swan Hills.  Red are HRV 4a (lands containing known sites). Yellow are HRV 5a (lands likely to contain sites). 

According to the Listing Instructions, there are several types of development that always require an application for HRA Approval:

  • Any project that requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): These applications generally result in a requirement for a Historical Resources Baseline Assessment.
  • Any project that requires National Energy Board (NEB) or Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) Approval
  • Forest Harvest Plans: These can be managed through the special Forestry HRA Compliance process.  This is Tree Time’s specialty. Contact me before submitting an Application in OPAC.
  • Class 1 Pipelines
  • Projects requiring Conservation and Reclamation Approval by Alberta Environment. According to the Conservation and Reclamation Guidelines for Alberta this includes:
    • The construction, operation or reclamation of a well, battery, oil production site, pipeline, transmission line, telecommunication system, mine, pit quarry, peat operation or plant.
    • The conduct or reclamation of an exploration operation for coal or oil sands;
    • The construction or reclamation of a roadway
    • The reclamation of a railway
  • All Area Structure Plans and other long-term municipal planning documents.

Some development types use the Listing to selectively trigger requirements for HRA Approval:

  • Small-scale conventional oil and gas developments (wellsites, pipelines, access roads, etc)
    • HRA Approval is required if the footprint overlaps any HRV Listed lands.
  • Surface Materials (sand, gravel, clay, peat, etc. pits):
    • 5 ha or larger / Class 1 Pits: HRA Approval is always required.
    • Under 5 ha / Class 2 Pits: HRA Approval is required if the project area overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3 or 4 lands (known sites).
  • Subdivisions:
    • Most subdivisions: HRA Approval required if the project area overlaps any Listed lands (HRV 1-5).
    • Simple subdivisions (first parcel out, 80-acre split, lot / line boundary adjustment or parcel consolidation): HRA Approval required if the project area overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4 lands (known sites), but not HRV 5 (high potential).
  • Oil Sands and Coal Exploration operations (drilling programs and associated clearing, access and reclamation): HRA Approval required if the project footprint overlaps any Listed Lands (HRV 1-5).
  • Geophysical Programs (seismic): HRA Approval Required if the project footprint overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3 or 4, (known sites) but not HRV 5 (high potential).
  • Geotechnical exploration operations(drilling programs, including those in support of other projects). HRA Approval Required if the project footprint overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3 or 4, (known sites) but not HRV 5 (high potential).
  • Pipeline Integrity Digs (and similar operations, including all access, workspace, laydown, etc). HRA Approval Required if:
    • The activities will extend off the original disposition footprint, and overlap any Listed lands (HRV 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5), or
    • Any activities are on HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4C lands, even if they’re limited to the existing footprint.
  • Utility Distribution Services (including power, low pressure gas, and water supply projects that aren’t triggered by the EIA, NEB, or AUC processes): HRA Approval Required if:
    • The project footprint overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4 lands (known sites), or
    • The project footprint overlaps HRV 5 lands (high potential) and involves trenching on undisturbed land (eg. native prairie or forest).

Several other Regulatory processes trigger a review of the Listing and fall under the general Instructions for use of the Listing:

“In the absence of a Land Use Procedures Bulletin specific to the proposed project type and/or industry, the proponent must submit a Historic Resources (HR) Application”

  • Public Lands Dispositions:
    • the LAT (Landscape Analysis Tool) reviews all applications against the Listing and notes a Condition (2060) requiring HRA Approval for any dispositions in HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4 lands (known sites).
    • Dispositions not covered by the Bulletins above, such as miscellaneous leases (MLL), and licenses of occupation (LOC) may also be referred for HRA Approval for HRV 5 lands by approvals officers.
  • Water Act Applications: the Wetland Application Checklist requires submission of the results of a Historical Resources Act “Search”. Any developments that involve significant ground disturbance and overlap Listed lands (HRV 1-5) should be submitted for HRA Approval.
  • Temporary Field Authorization: The TFA Application form requires applicants to check the Listing and requires HRA Approval for all Listed lands (HRV 1-5).
  • Biophysical Impact Assessments: Some municipalities (eg. Calgary) include a check of the Listing, or a requirement for HRA Approval, as part of a Biophysical Impact Assessment.

Generally speaking, any development or activity should be referred to Alberta Culture for HRA Approval if it is:

  1. Located in Listed lands (HRV 1-5), and
  2. Involves disturbance of native prairie or forest, or deep excavation

If you don’t know where to start, or would like someone to review your project before you submit it to Culture, contact me (Kurt) or one of the team at 780-472-8878 or toll free at 1-866-873-3846. You can also email us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help!

HRV 4C – What Happens Now?

You have made a plan for a development and reviewed your plan against the Listing of Historic Resources. You’ve found that you have a conflict on your land parcel, it is listed with an HRV of 4C. What does that mean?

An HRV of 4C indicates that an historic resource site is located on that parcel of land, and that one or more First Nations groups have reported that the site is of cultural significance to them. These sites are usually Traditional Use Sites with a historic component, or spiritually significant or religious sites. Some examples include historic cabins or trails, community campsites, prayer trees or other spiritual sites, burials, cemeteries, rock art sites, and mission sites.

Before you can proceed you or your historic resource consultant must submit a Historic Resource Application through OPAC (the Online Permitting And Clearance system) to the Aboriginal Heritage Section of Alberta Culture & Tourism. Aboriginal Heritage will review the development plans against their confidential records of the site and determine whether impacts are likely. If impacts to the HRV 4C site are likely, Aboriginal Heritage will issue site-specific Consultation requirements.

This means you may have to Consult with the First Nations who have Listed the site. More than one group may have an interest in the site because of shared history and land use. Be sure to consult with all interested parties in this matter. Consulting with only one group on overlapping Listings is not sufficient. Alberta Culture will inform you if Consultation is required or not, and with which groups site specific Consultation is required (Listing of Historic Resources, Instructions for Use). It’s very important to understand that any Site-Specific Historic Resource Consultation requirements are separate from and in addition to any other standard Consultation requirements regarding Treaty rights and land use. You may have to go back to First Nations you’ve already Consulted about your project in general, and may have to Consult with different groups or individuals.

Whether you are required to Consult with First Nations groups or not, an HRV of 4C may also result in a requirement for an Historic Resources Impact Assessment. The fact that a specific historic resource has been identified within your land parcel does not mean that the rest of the area has been surveyed and that there is only the one site there. It only indicates that an historic resource site has been reported. An historic resources impact assessment requirement is likely because areas that are considered culturally significant today usually have been considered important for centuries, or millennia. Areas with an HRV of 4C have a high potential to contain additional historic resources such as archaeological sites.

You may be required to redesign your project to avoid the HRV 4C historic resources site. If the site can’t be avoided, mitigation may be required. Mitigation of archaeological and historic sites typically requires extensive shovel testing, detailed block excavations proportional to the percent of the site to be impacted and detailed mapping of the site. Mitigation of impacts to a Culturally Significant site would likely be site-specific, and determined in collaboration with the affected communities.

Our recommendation for HRV 4C conflicts is to identify them early, discuss them with communities in advance, avoid them at the planning stage.

If you don’t know where to start, or would like someone to help you Consult with First Nations contact Kurt or Madeline at 780-472-8878 or toll free at 1-866-873-3846 or email us at [email protected]. We are happy to help.