Edmonton

'Touching the water' an elusive goal as funds for stalled Edmonton river promenade set to dry up

Mayor Don Iveson wants a city audit of a much-heralded river valley project that has stalled so hard that federal dollars once promised for the initiative will disappear within months.

'Its frustrating that five years down the road, it's going to be delayed and there's no certain future for it'

Redeveloping the area near the decommissioned Rossdale power plant, seen here before part of the complex was demolished, has been in the works for years. (Google)

Mayor Don Iveson wants the city to audit a much-heralded river valley project that has stalled so hard that federal dollars once promised for the initiative will disappear within months.

The Touch the Water promenade was meant to transform lands near the decommissioned Epcor power plant in the Rossdale neighbourhood.

As the name implied, the project was supposed to get visitors closer to the water, with a possible pier or steps leading to the river. The River Valley Alliance spearheaded the initiative.

But six years after the public discussion first started, the promenade is so far from completion that city administrators on Wednesday asked to defer it until the 2019-2022 funding cycle.

That's a blow to the $10.5-million initiative, since one-third of the money was supposed to come from a federal building grant. But the grant was dependent on the project being completed by the end of this year.
The Touch the Water promenade construction has been put on hold. (City of Edmonton)

Walterdale Bridge strikes again

Delays have come, in part, from construction of the nearby Walterdale Bridge, and in part from contamination found at the site. There have also been long-standing issues with transferring land to the city from Epcor.

Iveson said the city has changed its project management approach since the project was first approved. But he hopes an audit will still provide lessons to the city.

"Part of our new approach to project management is to do more evaluation work, more design work, more geotechnical and more site evaluation contamination analysis ... before we promise, 'Yes, we can get it done in two years,' " he said, following an urban planning committee meeting on Wednesday. 

"Because every time we hit a risk like that, a project goes sideways, things get delayed and the story is how did we not know this?"
The plan for Touch the Water was to bring visitors closer to the North Saskatchewan River. (John Roberston/CBC Edmonton)

Money that was set aside for Touch the Water will be "released," meaning that city councillors will decide how to re-assign it to other projects.

'It just seems sad'

For those living in Rossdale, the future of the neighbourhood promenade seems unclear.

Lynn Parish, president of the Rossdale community league, said if the project is delayed until 2019, its future will be dependent on the whims of a new council.

"It wasn't like we lobbied for it, but having said that, once it gets out there, people's expectations are raised," she said.

"This project was given an urban design award. It seems frustrating that five years down the road, it's going to be delayed and there's no certain future for it ... It just seems sad that we made this plan and now it doesn't seem viable."

Coun. Ben Henderson moved a motion that city administration provide a report on the progress of Touch the Water by this fall, including how to get the project "shovel-ready" by 2019.

"Touch the Water was about creating a different kind of space down around the Rossdale Power Plant," he said. "I just worry it will be much harder to make it a reality. And we've been talking about it forever."

He noted the project was supposed to connect with the funicular project, which will whisk passengers from 100th Street, near the Hotel Macdonald, to a viewing platform over the river to the river valley.

The funicular project was funded, in part, through the same federal grant program. Construction is expected to be finished this fall.