Categories: Local News

Riel Park overhaul rolls ahead

Soccer and rugby fans are moving to temporary homes this week now that the city has started to dig up the fields at Riel Park.

City crews started digging up the soccer and rugby fields in Riel Park last week. The work is part of a roughly $32.1 million effort to cap the landfill underneath the fields to keep it from leaking toxic leachate into the Sturgeon River.

Crews closed the portion of the Red Willow Park Trail that runs parallel to Ray Gibbon Drive on July 23 and are now stripping the sod off the southwest portion of the soccer field, said city project manager Jon Cleland.

If the weather holds, they’ll start major excavation and capping on Monday. “It’s pretty wet out there,” Cleland noted, so crews might have to wait for the dirt to dry before they start.

Budgeted at $9 million, this part of the remediation will see both the St. Albert Soccer Association’s and St. Albert Rugby Football Club’s fields dug up and rebuilt with new grass and sprinklers. That means both groups will be without a home field for the next two years.

It also means doomsday for the line of tall spruce trees by the rugby club. The trees are too big to survive a move, so they’ll have to be removed and replaced with new ones, said the city’s environmental manager Leah Jackson.

Doug Krempien, facilities manager for the rugby club, recalled planting those trees in about 1988.

“I’ve watched them grow from the time they were six-foot trees,” he said, noting that they are now around 30 feet or nine metres tall.

“I’m going to be sorry to see them go,” he said.

Old problem, new field

St. Albert had a number of landfills under what is now Riel Park in the 1980s, explained Jackson. Although they were capped and graded according to the standards of the day, the landfills had little to no clay over them in many spots, allowing rainwater to potentially leach toxins out of them and into the Sturgeon.

When Environment Canada ordered the city to keep that from happening in 2004, the city decided to put a new 60-centimetre thick clay cap atop the landfill. Council later rolled upgrades to the region’s sports fields into the project.

The project that’s now beginning is the second half of the remediation – the rodeo grounds, BMX and RV parks were rebuilt during the first half, Jackson said.

The soccer association will use a variety of fields in St. Albert and Edmonton.

The rugby club has relocated its teams to Gatewood Park near Wild Rose Elementary, said Krempien, but with four senior teams and a number of juniors, the club will likely not have enough space.

“I don’t know how we’re going to manage,” Krempien said. “It’s going to be tight.”

But something did have to be done about the field, he said, as it had 30-year-old sod and was prone to sinking. He hoped the new field would have stronger grass and better drainage.

Cleland, the project manager, hopes to have the capping and grading done by Nov. 30 and the seeding finished next year, but that would depend on the weather.

“We may have to make some adjustments,” he said.

Crews have set up a temporary truck crossing on Ray Gibbon Drive to allow trucks to haul in the clay and dirt required for the project. Expect to see heavy trucks making about 190 round-trips a day across the street, with manually adjusted traffic lights stopping traffic for them, Cleland said.

The trucks will not use the crossing during peak hours come September.

The trail by the soccer fields will be closed until fall 2013, Cleland said. Residents can still reach Big Lake by taking Rodeo Drive and walking under the Ray Gibbon Drive bridge.

The fields should be ready for use by 2014, Cleland said. For details, visit www.stalbert.ca/riel-recreation-park-redevelopment.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.