Environmental Concerns

Failure to Satisfy Project’s Environmental Criteria

We also have serious environmental concerns about the Valley Line LRT, especially considering the increasing scarcity and importance of natural areas and habitat across our province; as “The Way We Green” notes, “In a given year more natural areas are still lost than protected. With biodiversity on the decline around the world and in Edmonton, new tools are needed to achieve the City’s biodiversity commitments…. [Edmonton will] protect, preserve and restore ecosystems and increase biodiversity” (p.8). The Valley Line LRT seems to contradict this statement as well as “The Way We Grow” Goal 7: To “[p]rotect, preserve and enhance the North Saskatchewan River Valley and Ravine System as Edmonton’s greatest natural asset.” It is also arguable that the Valley Line LRT violates the spirit of Bylaw 7188, whose goal is “to ensure preservation of the natural character and environment of the North Saskatchewan River Valley and Ravine System.”

The Level 1 Criteria for route selection of this LRT project included maximizing use of existing transportation corridors, as well as ensuring the route “is not adjacent to multiple parks, open spaces, river valley or other protected areas.”[1] Yet the Valley Line LRT does not use an existing vehicle corridor where it matters most – crossing the river valley. Instead, as the City itself acknowledges, the Valley Line LRT crossing “is viewed by Urban Planning and Environment as a new corridor across the North Saskatchewan the river valley.”[2] And in doing so, it cuts directly through three parks and destroys or adversely impacts 1.6 kilometers of parkland through the addition of tracks, sidings, and storage buildings, never mind being adjacent to it.

How can the City defend that the Valley Line LRT satisfies the primary environmental goal of the project, “To ensure preservation of the natural character and environment of the North Saskatchewan River Valley and its Ravine System”[3] when it involves the introduction of trains to a non-vehicle corridor, as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure in river valley parkland? It should be noted that the only argument defending the “environmental” aspect of this route in the planning documents is that a new bridge over the river will decrease the number of piers from three to two[4] – a specious comment because, as the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper has stated, once the piers are in the water, it is more destructive to remove them than to leave them alone. This project thus involves net impact of five piers.

While any new crossing over the North Saskatchewan River would have negative environmental impacts, the Cloverdale footbridge crossing is the only route, of the four considered routes, that is not already a vehicle corridor. Furthermore, this area is of particular environmental value because of its adjacency to the original Mill Creek outflow, one of the few sections of the downtown river valley that has never been developed in the city’s history. When we asked at the public hearing for the Environmental Impact Screening Assessment why the Transportation Department chose this particular route rather than one of the three existing-vehicle-corridor routes, the head Transportation engineer at the time replied “it would be a wash.” It is difficult to understand how the City could have accepted this conclusion when this is the only route that constitutes a new transportation corridor, and when only one EISA was performed. Furthermore, when we probed how it was determined that this particular crossing would be no more destructive than another crossing, the City admitted that this conclusion was reached not by the biologists who performed the EISA, but by the Transportation Department itself. How qualified is this department to make such a claim?

As the Environmental Impact Assessment notes, “major potential adverse impacts to slopes, vegetation, and wildlife and fish habitat are predicted”[5] from the Valley Line LRT, including permanent loss of habitat for endangered and threatened species such as peregrine falcons, barred owls and little brown bats, as well as permanent impact to habitat connectivity and wildlife movement (along the only east-west passageway wildlife has through the city).

Mill Creek Contradictory Planning

The City has changed its transportation plans through the river valley many times in the past: it cancelled a highway through Mill Creek ravine, and then at the last minute (after construction had already begun) it cancelled a highway through McKinnon Ravine. In other cases, mistakes were indeed made, as in the rerouting of Mill Creek underground, causing many environmental disturbances. Today, Edmonton is considering paying tens of millions of dollars to “daylight” Mill Creek, while at the very same time arguably committing a similar error requiring “requieting” of the river valley in the future when people realize they do not want trains running through otherwise peaceful parkland. How does the City justify seemingly making the same kind of error?

The City’s own documents quote Canada’s first resident landscape architect Frederick Todd from a 1907 comment on the Edmonton river valley and ravines: “I am of the opinion that the future generations would look upon it almost as a crime if these ravines are allowed to become denuded of their woods or otherwise made unsuitable for public pleasure grounds, for there are no other lands such as these located within easy walking distance of the city.”[6] The fact that this natural area is within walking distance of the centre of the city is perhaps Edmonton’s greatest feature. And this is why the public has continued, across the decades, to fight to protect it.

[1] http://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/PDF/2009_Southeast_LRT_Corridor.pdf (Section 2.2)

[2]http://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/PDF/Attachment_2_Valley_Line_Stage_1_Site_Location_Study.pdf (p. 4)

[3]http://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/PDF/Attachment_2_Valley_Line_Stage_1_Site_Location_Study.pdf (p.10)

[4]http://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/PDF/Attachment_2_Valley_Line_Stage_1_Site_Location_Study.pdf (p.10)

[5] See Appendix C; document no longer available on City of Edmonton website.

[6]http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/PDF/BIO_DIVERSITY_REPORT_-_high_res_August2008.pdf (p. 28)