At the Dec. 11 city public hearing, a primary justification supporting the recently approved Braeside waterfront condo was articulated by Councilor Ray Watkins who asserted “there aren’t a lot of locations along the river valley where this can happen … this is one of the few, if not the only one left.” However, a cursory examination of St. Albert’s Land Use and Annexation Maps reveal the opposite: and remarkably so near Riverlot 56 (in future annex lands), Lois Hole Provincial Park, and along Carrot Creek. Ironically, even the City’s own Beaudry Place has waterfront-development potential. It is misleading and incorrect to state the Braeside waterfront condo will be the last of its kind; and therefore, the residents’ concerns over cumulative impacts remain valid.
At second reading it was argued the river valley is 70 per cent developed, a conservation concern (and quantifiable fact determined by a qualified environmental professional) brought forth by organized residents, yet dismissed by council as “just an opinion.” Though, if any opinions were involved, they were attempts to compromise and find middle ground by underestimating development using a river-valley definition that was arguably too small. If expanded to include the full topographical river valley (i.e., not the recreational, cultural, or effective valley composing the original definition), it is actually 84 per cent developed. Scientifically, this exceeds all recommended land-use thresholds beyond which we can expect negative ecological impacts.
Furthermore, there should be particular concern over Mayor Cathy Heron’s statement “I don’t see a threat to the entire river valley system by this one development,” because this is textbook cumulative effects mismanagement: one development at a time, each unto its own, and irrespective of the accumulation as a whole. It’s easy to justify one development in isolation, but this becomes exceedingly difficult when contextualized against only 16 per cent remaining green space in a fragmented river valley where mother moose attempting to move through our city are literally shot to death because they can’t find safe passage. Now, less than 300m from this kill site, we are adding just one more 80-unit condo unto its own, and irrespective of the accumulation as a whole. This is the same chronic oversight used to support Tenor on the River, Botanica Luxury Apartments, Sturgeon Point Villas, St. Albert Center, Meadowview Ball Park, all of Riel Industrial Park, and the un-lined garbage dump festering underneath the soccer/rugby pitches (among other examples).
The St. Albert river valley is already ecologically fragmented and disconnected. It lacks a strategy or conservation plan to: a) cease development until cumulative effects are defensibly contextualized, and b) prioritize available lands for both set-asides and restoration to increase green space above the existing 16 per cent; something both the City’s Environmental Master Plan and more regional environmental documents remain mute over. Nothing currently mitigates development along the Sturgeon River’s shores or in its valley. City council has the authority to achieve and enforce a river-valley conservation plan; however, rather than deflecting this burden onto concerned and exhausted residents, council needs to commit to this as a priority before there’s nothing left to conserve.
Matthew Wheatley, PhD, Ecosystem Scientist and Adjunct Professor in Ecology (U of A), St. Albert