Failed SW ring road deal could revive Weaselhead plan

With the Tsuu T'ina First Nation having rejected a proposal to build the southwest portion of Calgary's future ring road on its land, the province and city say it's time to look at alternate routes.
Preservationists say it would be too costly to build the ring road through the Weaselhead Flats natural area and could cause environmental damage. ((CBC))

With the Tsuu T'ina First Nation having rejected a proposal to build the southwest portion of Calgary's future ring road on its land, the province and city say it's time to look at alternate routes.

After decades of stop-and-start negotiations with the province, members of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation rejected a draft proposal on Tuesday to trade part of their land for cash and Crown land so the road could be completed.

The southwest portion of the proposed ring road, which is part of the city's plan to ease commuter traffic congestion, was to start at an interchange at Sarcee Trail, Highway 8 and Glenmore Trail. The route would have gone though Tsuu T'ina land from Glenmore Trail to Highway 22X on the western edge of Calgary.

Of the 78 per cent of the roughly 900 eligible voters who turned out to vote on the ring road plan, 60.5 per cent voted against it while 38.5 per cent were in favour.

The band was divided between those who favoured future economic development and others who wanted to hold on to the land, which includes burial grounds considered sacred.

The latest round of talks between the province, which is responsible for building the road with municipal consultation, and the band cost millions of dollars in legal and consulting fees.

"We haven't done a lot of work on the other options," said Alberta transportation spokesman Trent Bancarz. "We've been pretty much focused on the alignment through the reserve."

He said the province does not plan on returning to the bargaining table with the Tsuu T'ina.

Weaselhead Flats proposals could be revisited

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier said he respects the band's decision, so it's back to the drawing board for municipal and provincial officials when it comes to the southwest portion of the ring road.

Previous proposals, including building over, under or through the Weaselhead Flats natural area, will likely be revisited by the province.

"There are those and many other solutions, and I'm not about to table one today or speculate what it might look like," Bronconnier said Wednesday. "What we do know is … going through the reserve is not an option."

The Tsuu T'ina First Nation rejected a deal Tuesday that would have seen part of the Calgary ring road built through their reserve.

Brent Johner, a member of the Weaselhead Preservation Society, said building through the natural area isn't practical.

"The bridge would be enormously long and enormously expensive given our population base," he said. "A tunnel would cost even more than that. A road would probably do significant environmental damage.

"We do have other options — we can expand 14th Street, which is the city's current plan."

Calgary Ald. Brian Pincott said he considers the band's No vote definitive and feels the process should start from scratch.

"I think that we need to take a look at our brand new Calgary transportation plan that was at council last week, which looks forward at how we do transportation in our city, and look at that as a guide," he said.

'Dangling ring road like a carrot'

The province had its sights set on completing the ring road by 2015, but the rejection by the Tsuu T'ina puts that deadline in jeopardy.

"You've got to look at everything … — timelines, costing, constructability, doability, buildability of the road. All of those take a considerable amount of time," said Bronconnier.

Construction of the northeast portion of the road is underway and is to start on the southeast portion in the spring of 2010.

Liberal MLA Kent Hehr accused the provincial Conservative government of "dangling this [southwest part of the] ring road like a carrot in front of Calgary voters for years, and it’s pretty clear now this road was never going to happen."

"They’ve said they don’t even have a Plan B for southwest Calgary commuters!" he said in a statement on Wednesday. "Here we have another example of a structural deficit given to us by an administration increasingly stuck in the red."