Group wants river valley protected against LRT development

An announcement marking the start of Edmonton's largest ever construction project was interrupted on Friday by protesters urging the city to consider a new approach.

City officials confirm dismantling of footbridge will go ahead this summer

Protesters picketed a ground breaking ceremony for the Valley Line LRT. Mayor Don Iveson defended the city's decision to remove the Cloverdale footbridge this summer. 0:55

An announcement marking the start of Edmonton's largest ever construction project was interrupted on Friday by protesters urging the city to consider a new approach. 

The "Save the Footbridge" group has been fighting to stop the Cloverdale footbridge from being taken down to make way for a new bridge where LRT trains will run.

Federal, provincial and municipal politicians took the podium at the Muttart Conservatory to talk about the $1.8 billion southeast leg of the Valley Line. The Conservatory is the site of a future LRT stop, and 20 to 30 protestors stood behind them.

Protesters carried signs marked "Don't ruin our parks," and "30 acres gone". They chanted "Save the river valley" before and after official announcements were being made.

The Valley Line will extend Edmonton's LRT system from City Centre Mall downtown to Millwoods in the southeast.
Demonstrators wave signs behind Mayor Don Iveson (CBC)

Group wants river valley preserved

"We're here today to stand up for the river valley," group founder Kristine Kowalchuk said. 

Kowalchuk said a city bylaw was created in the 1970s to protect Edmonton's river valley.

"Its main goal is to preserve the environment and natural character of our river valley," Kowalchuk said. "Running trains through this area runs directly counter to the bylaw."

What really matters is the permanent loss of this very important ecological recreational centre right in the heart of the city.- Kristine Kowalchuk, founder of Save the Footbridge

Kowalchuk said up to 2,000 people cross the pedestrian bridge every day, and when it's taken down, there will be no bridge to get across that part of the river for 34 months.

"Beyond that, what really matters is the permanent loss of this very important ecological recreational centre right in the heart of the city, this is the thing that makes Edmonton great," Kowalchuk said, referring to the loss of river valley land because of the project.

Kristine Kowalchuk said she is worried what the loss of the footbridge would mean for the river valley. (CBC)

Some of the people protesting live in the riding, where Linda Duncan is the NDP Member of Parliament.

Duncan was at the announcement on Friday, and said while on the one hand she's happy to see Edmonton expanding its transportation network, she sympathizes with the people raising concerns.

"I think it would have been good if there had been at least another series of meetings talking about where all the alternative routes were," Duncan said. 

'Time to move on'

Mayor Don Iveson chose not to acknowledge any of the demonstrators at the event when he took the podium to make a short speech. After the event, he said he's heard people's concerns but it's time to move on.

"We spent a phenomenal amount of time evaluating other routes at the early stage, and then when they asked us to look at alternatives, I can't tell you the amount of staff time my office and city engineers spent." Iveson said.

None of those alternate routes would have performed as well, he said, adding council remains committed to the route that has been chosen.

Iveson said the city has also done what he describes as a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. He said that assessment showed the disruption will be quite minimal.

He said one of the reasons why the new bridge will go where the old bridge currently stands is to minimize any further environmental impact.

Rendering of the Tawatina Bridge

Bridge coming down this summer

Even though the mayor has made it clear there's no turning back now, Kristine Kowalchuk is vowing to continue her campaign, with another event planned for Saturday on the Cloverdale bridge.

"We have a picnic and protest on the footbridge where there's going to be free food and music and we're going to form a human chain to stand up for the river valley," Kowalchuk said.

There's no date set for when the Cloverdale bridge will be taken down, but city officials have confirmed it will be sometime this summer.

The contractor has a window of 34 months to have the new bridge, named "Tawatina," in its place.

Trains will run over top of the bridge. It will feature an under sling where there will be walking paths on both sides, and a bicycle path in the middle.

gareth.hampshire@cbc.ca

@cbcgareth