St. Albert residents have until Oct. 18 to decide who should fill the city’s six available council chairs.
In this, our third instalment of a six-part Q&A series, the Gazette asked those seeking election to address the environment. Responses have only been edited for spelling, grammar and length. The Gazette does not vouch for the accuracy of candidates’ statements.
What environmental issue or issues should the city address and how would you pursue this if elected?
In talking to the people in the community it seems the uppermost environmental issue on their minds is the state of the Sturgeon River. It is important that the information on the present condition of the river is available to us prior to making recommendations. The much-awaited “State of the Sturgeon” report should provide us with the information we need to proceed with the next steps on how to improve the river valley.
Even so, there are a number of actions that can be taken of which I have chosen four:
• Identify sources to restore funding for more oil and grit separators.
• Work diligently with the Alberta government on enforcement of water legislation.
• Reduce water consumption by encouraging citizens to target the 200-litres per person per day as suggested in the EAP
• Encourage the continuance of an educational program on efficient use of water through the school systems.
The importance of the environment of our city is increasing every year. There is most definitely a need to address important issues that have been expressed by our citizens and in particular the St. Albert environmental advisory committee. This committee works very hard in the pursuit for St Albert to become the leader among the mid-sized cities of Alberta in improving our environment.
One of my priorities would be the state of the Sturgeon River. We are challenged with the major concern of low water tables that are detrimental to the velocity and depth of the river. We have seen good efforts in organizing community participation in cleaning up the banks of the Sturgeon. I would strive to increase the frequency of these events.
Another issue that needs to be implemented is the solid waste management plan. The commercial waste and air quality control monitoring should also be addressed in the near future.
The Sturgeon River should be a natural asset we seek to restore and then preserve. I would like to see us invest in grit separators to improve water quality, protect riparian land along the Sturgeon from development and re-establish watershed management committees comprised of stakeholders up and downstream. I would also like to examine purchasing water rights as they come up for sale in the future.
We should empower citizens to find green solutions. Grey/rain water policies to permit re-use in new and existing developments should be examined. By giving residents the authority to capture their residential grey water for use in their gardens and yards, we could save substantial amounts of water and substantial dollars on our utilities bills. We could also offer a property tax assessment freeze on green initiatives. The use of solar panels or increased heating efficiency through green design should not result in an increase in property tax assessment.
The environment is a problem that is beyond the scope of any one factor, however there are steps that our city can do to help alleviate the problem.
St. Albert must start with small projects that can make a difference over time. We can start by working on immediate cleanup efforts for the Sturgeon River, and reduce the dependency on traditional forms of energy. We should give people a reason to install solar panels, either through a tax break or a credit if they produce enough energy to give back to the grid.
We can introduce hybrid buses to the city’s fleet. We can also find a way to improve the efficiency of the city’s use of energy. The city should also be giving preference to green projects and developments to reduce the carbon footprint. The environment is a problem that we will pass on to future generations, but we must start now to make a difference.
The environmental issues that need addressing include stabilization and cleanup of the river, promotion of energy efficiency and “green” technology as well as cost effective waste management.
The river will require a plan with high priority, led by the city including neighbouring jurisdictions, and the department of fisheries and oceans. We must identify specific goals, activities, schedules, find the funding and include measures to check our success.
Energy efficiency in our homes and businesses continues to evolve. Incentives to reduce consumption already available should be promoted. We must promote “green” technology in our new developments in the northwest. Green spaces should be part of our land use bylaws and a requirement as the DARP progresses.
Waste management has become a large percentage of our utility charges. Administration must re-evaluate the cost benefits and find less costly options. Citizens already recycled at centralized locations. Do we really need another collection for organic wastes? Who gets the revenues recovered from recycled materials?
I am thrilled to be able to discuss the environment, as I feel it has not been enough in the forefront of this election. When considering the future of our city, it is imperative that the implications for the environment be respected. It is the responsibility of council to ensure that the environment remain a concern alongside its policy.
If given the opportunity to serve the residents of St. Albert, I will work to ensure that this responsibility is met. As we move towards new manners of growth, whether it is developing light industrial parks or affordable housing, this growth must adhere to the strictest of environmental standards. While working towards the future, we must also address the current environmental issues facing our city. Attention must be given to conserving our green spaces and tackling the condition of the Sturgeon River.
In order to sustain our beautiful community, the environment must remain at the forefront of our minds.
We need to promote the use of transit and car pooling to reduce our carbon footprint. While developing the annexed lands we need to provide pathways, walkways and bike trails that inter-connect with existing pedestrian systems for our citizens to use as an alternative method for commuting.
We must investigate efficiencies internally by purchasing city fleet hybrid vehicles and retrofitting our buildings with alternative energy efficient systems. Changing our traffic and streetlights to solar power and watering our parks with recycled rainwater should be another goal. We need to continue promoting our blue bag program and composting facilities with educational advertisements.
Some of these initiatives would be costly and need to be planned for the long term, so it’s important that we identify provincial and federal funding to assist us. Our municipal development plan must also include these important environmental components. As city councillor, I will develop the necessary motions for approval and consult with the experts when needed for city administration to implement our updated green city plan.
Environmental priorities for St. Albert include:
• Complete the State of the Sturgeon River Watershed report and refer the report to the environmental advisory committee. Evaluate recommendations and determine next steps with public input. Continue to plant trees along the Sturgeon River with the assistance of residents and volunteer groups.
• Continue the environmental management system, by which all decisions made, are evaluated in light of their environmental impact. Next steps involve the completion of the department of public works ISO 14001 certification process.
• Establish an air monitoring station in St. Albert.
• Continue to work with the province and Ducks Unlimited in planning an educational/research /interpretive centre in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, with a walkway to the Enjoy Centre.
• Complete the process to have the White Spruce Forest declared a municipal heritage site. Work with forestry companies to develop trails and an outdoor teaching station.
The most pressing environmental issue facing St. Albert is the health of the Sturgeon River. The Sturgeon River watershed drains over 3,600 sq. kilometres and the river and Big Lake form a vital link in the environmental landscape around the city.
However, storm water outfalls have deposited sand and grit that hamper fish migration and the run-off contains fertilizers from nearby farms and golf courses which destroy the natural riparian grasses and flowers by promoting the growth of invasive vegetation and aquatic weeds.
Finally, the water levels in the river have dropped due to the more than 600 approved water withdrawals with only half of this water returning to the river.
The first step in addressing the needs of the Sturgeon River is to construct the hydrocarbon grit interceptors that are currently in the capital budget plan and begin the hard work of revitalizing the river. St. Albert deserves nothing less!
The city has undertaken and continues to improve excellent initiatives to address water conservation and solid waste reduction. I fully support these initiatives and am proud that we are continuing to find ways to reduce our overall carbon footprint and reduce landfill and utility charges.
The Province of Alberta has agreed to enlarge Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park and I believe St. Albert should continue to engage the province to acquire more land around Big Lake. This would allow us to preserve this important resource and eventually create one of the largest urban parks in North America.
Another project which we should continue to support is the REEP (River Edge Enhancement Project) and annual river valley clean-up which focuses on improving the environment along the Sturgeon River in St. Albert.
I will pursue additional green initiatives such as expanding the curbside recycle program to include compost items. This is similar to the Strathcona County program. Weekly pick-up in the summer and bi-weekly in the winter.
Also, I will propose incentives to switch from paper and plastic grocery bags to environmental friendly bags similar to what Fort McMurray did.
The Sturgeon River cleanup is another issue that needs to be addressed. This is in concert with the Riel Park redevelopment project. Council has to lobby our federal MP for funds to cover the projected $30 million. The landfill was approved in the 1970s and 1980s prior to the stricter regulations that later came into effect.
Environmental issues in St. Albert are numerous:
1. Cleaning the Sturgeon River. Installation of oil and grit separators. One is built, 20 to follow.
2. Cleaning brownfield sites for usable land.
3. Eliminating the use of pesticide.
4. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Set a realistic plan to achieve targets.
5. Implement the use of renewable resources and provide incentives to home owners.
6. Reconsider some of the environmentally sound smart growth green ideas, conducive to our northern environment.
7. Clean the salt contaminated former public works yard in Riel to stop salt from draining towards the Sturgeon River.
8. Relocate the AltaLink power lines to mitigate bird kill. $600,000 has been committed by the province and AltaLink.
9. Provide hazardous material disposal station to avoid further contamination to the watershed.
I’ll set clear environmental priorities, obtain available federal and provincial grants and begin to seriously address those issues.
As a councillor, I would advocate for the following:
1. Within our own operations we need to continue with the implementation of an ISO14001 conforming environmental master plan.
2. Institute an urban forestation policy to minimize the city’s carbon footprint.
3. Work with Alberta Environment to resolve existing issues associated with abandoned landfills along Sturgeon River and Carrot Creek. This is essential to facilitate rezoning annexed lands.
4. Water quality of Sturgeon River is a complex problem both from a technical and regulatory perspective. The city should investigate opportunities to improve the recreational value of the river, without significant tax burden or jurisdictional obstacles from regulators. Water quality should not decline between where the river enters the city and where it exits.
5. Reduce pesticide use.
6. Encourage the use of reusable shopping bags.
7. Pedestrian and bike friendly transit corridors and build transit oriented developments.