In an interview after the hearing, Duncan says the overarching problem when it comes to protecting the river valley is a lack of clear direction and rules that are both enforceable and enforced. “Contrary to council after council lauding that we have the longest river valley park in North America, they never spend a cent on it, and they never put in place binding rules to protect the area,” she says. “There is a river valley bylaw, but it’s being interpreted as only applying to initiatives by the City, and even then, it’s not very strictly enforced.”
Duncan says the City’s approach to the valley is hobbled by silos. There are about 28,000 square kilometres of land upstream of Edmonton that drains into the North Saskatchewan. Communities upstream of Edmonton include Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Leduc and Rocky Mountain House. The watershed supports all kinds of human activities including agriculture, forestry, oil and gas and manufacturing. “There are a good number of community-based organizations that have been watchdogging their creeks for quite some time, and making sure those areas are protected,” Duncan says, and they should be consulted in developing any watershed management plan.
Duncan is also pushing for proper environmental impact assessments for major projects, with teeth to enforce their findings. She says the approval process for Epcor’s solar power plant is a case in point. City Council approved the project in a 7-6 vote, despite a scathing environmental review from its own environmental planners, who found that the project would have a significant, long-term impact on wildlife habitat and result in an overall net loss of 49 acres of habitat, most notably affecting foxes, badgers, deer and moose. The planners also found that Epcor failed to do a triple-bottom-line analysis, one taking into account the social, environmental and economic costs and benefits of the project, significantly undervaluing the loss of ecosystem, recreational, aesthetic and social services caused by the project.