Edmonton engineers, business leaders high on proposed river-valley gondola project

Engineering and business groups in Edmonton endorse a proposed gondola across the North Saskatchewan River, while river valley conservation advocates oppose the idea.

More than 30 people speak at city's urban planning committee in favour of gondola

The tramway in Portland, Oregon, was one of the gondolas studied by the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board in 2018. (Share Oregan)

Engineering and business groups in Edmonton endorse a proposed gondola across the North Saskatchewan River, while river valley conservation advocates oppose the project.

At council's urban planning committee meeting Tuesday, more than 30 people spoke in favour of the $155-million project pitched by Prairie Sky Gondola that would link downtown with Whyte Avenue.

City administration recommended that council approve an initial framework to allow the company to negotiate land-lease agreements with the city for the gondola's five station locations. 

Representatives from the Downtown Business Association, the Old Strathcona Business Association and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce showed up to support the move. 

Janet Riopel, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, encouraged councillors to approve the initial framework. 

"It's an opportunity to establish a pilot of what creative partnerships between the city and the private sector could look like without any cost to the city taxpayers," she said.

Riopel said the innovative project would be a boost for tourism and local business. 

Several speakers described the project as a world-class endeavour. 

Simon O'Byrne, vice-president of community development with Stantec, also encouraged the city to support the project. 

"Cities all over the world are embracing urban gondolas," said O'Byrne, who spoke to the committee as an urban designer and planner. "This is a game changer and the city of Edmonton is getting a remarkable and transformational gift." 

Stantec has no formal role in the project at this time, said Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, president and CEO of Prairie Sky.

The current project development team includes EllisDon, Williams Engineering, Tetra Tech Engineering, Spencer Environmental, Hensen-Carlson said.

Also on the team, DIALOG, Huberman Transportation Consultants and Doppelmayr, whose engineers presented their case to urban planning committee. 

'Cockamamie' proposal

Three representatives from the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition spoke against the project. 

They argued that the structure would disrupt wildlife and the natural environment of the river valley. 

Eric Gormley said Edmonton has an outstanding park system and a gondola running through it wouldn't be conducive to maintaining public green space. 

"This venture is meant to urbanize, to monetize, to privatize the river valley," Gormley said, noting that 13 of the 20 steel towers would be in the river valley. 

"Cable cars funneling through Queen E. Park's forest would distract from its quiet beauty." 

Patsy Cotterill said she's opposed to the project and suggested the city shouldn't be using taxpayer money to pay for administration's time to write the report. 

"In my opinion, it's a cockamamie, completely unnecessary proposal dreamed up by dreamers that will introduce ugly infrastructure not only into the river valley but also into the downtown areas." 

If council approves the framework, Prairie Sky would need to fulfil several regulatory requirements: a transportation impact assessment, an environmental impact assessment, geotechnical assessments and rezoning applications.

Council must approve a site location study for selected sites to fulfil the River Valley Area Redevelopment Plan requirement. 

Not consulted

Sandra McLeod with the Papaschase First Nation and Pahpaystayo Association of Alberta band 136, said they haven't been consulted.

"We believe that that needs to take place first and foremost with a historical land study," McLeod said. "I have heard no mention of burial studies, I've heard no mention of treaty acknowledgement." 

Coun. Aaron Paquette suggested the city and the company take that seriously.

"I can tell you, a lot of Indigenous people are going to feel railroaded if this is just sort of a one-sided conversation," Paquette said. 

Hansen-Carlson said the company would embark on more robust engagement with the public and Indigenous groups if the framework is approved.

It would take 18 months to reach a design fully approved by all levels of government, Hansen-Carlson said. 

It would then take another 18 months to build the gondola, with the goal to be up and running by spring 2024, he said. 

Coun. Tony Caterina questioned what safeguards will be in place if the project fails. 

Hensen-Carlson said they've estimated it would cost $1.4 million to remove the towers and foundation system and other gondola equipment. That surety would go into a trust.

The committee agreed to resume the gondola discussion at a council meeting next week. 



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