Edmonton City Council chambers were packed Wednesday morning as councilors debated the proposed Prairie Sky Gondola.
Fifty-six speakers have registered to share their thoughts on the estimated $155 million development that would stretch from Old Strathcona to the outskirts of downtown.
If the project goes ahead, there would be five stations and 19 towers, all of which would be located on municipal land.
The city administration reached an agreement with the developers on the use of city land for the project. It is now up to the councilors to decide whether or not to approve this agreement.
Prairie Sky Gondola agreed to pay approximately $1.1 million per year to lease and operate public property.
The public and councilors had their say on the deal on Wednesday.
Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, president and CEO of Prairie Sky, called the meeting “a pretty definitive decision-making moment.”
Gondola developer would pay Edmonton $1.1 million a year for municipal land
The company brought several representatives to discuss the financial feasibility of the proposal, tourism opportunities and the archaeological assessment that would be carried out on the Rossdale lands.
Cameron Alexis, former Chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation and current CEO of Indigenous tourism company Tribal Chief Ventures Inc., told the council the project would be valuable for Indigenous tourism in the area.
Prairie Sky Gondola agrees to lease land from the City of Edmonton for $1.1 million per year
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Councillor. Erin Rutherford asked about integration with Edmonton Transit Service.
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Developer representatives have confirmed that there will be no integration and that users will not be able to use an ETS transfer or a gondola pass.
Rutherford expressed concern that the gondola would drive public transport riders away.
Even if the council approves the land deal, the project would not be a done deal.
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Prairie Sky Gondola’s chief strategy officer Bob Black told advisers there would still be a long list of requirements to be met, including engagement with the public and Indigenous groups.
There should also be an archaeological assessment of the lands west of Rossdale where bones have already been discovered.
“We in no way underestimate the scope of work or the scrutiny we will receive,” Black told the board about the assessment.
An Aboriginal speaker, whose ancestors are buried in the Rossdale Aboriginal Cemetery, said profoundly, “My family is not an archaeological project.
Cody Sharphead, a First Nations person with a background in archaeology, would lead the assessment.
This would include the use of ground-penetrating radar, which Black said would preferably be done by an Indigenous-owned company.
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Both Sharphead and Black indicated that if any graves were discovered it would significantly alter the project. However, they did not say the project would be canceled under these circumstances.
The promoter has repeatedly stated that there will be no government funding or grants needed for the project and that it will be entirely privately funded.
They said the project would be “low intrusive” and aimed to enhance the beauty of the river valley, especially at night. It has also been confirmed that there will be private security available at all stations, as well as audio-visual security.
The city administration told councilors on Wednesday that the only costs identified for the city were indirect costs in the form of personnel resources.
While many public presenters supported the gondola project, there were several with hesitation. Ritchie Mill owner Scott Hughes has expressed concern about the impact of the gondola on land deals, as well as operations at the heritage building.
Edmonton resident Chelsea Boos said the city should return the land to the Indigenous community and not to a private company to create a gondola. And wastewater researcher Jacqueline Noga expressed concern about the changing environment of the river and the risk of flooding. She noted that Rossdale is in a flood plain.
The next phase of the project carries a risk for the developers as the project could be abandoned. They said they were ready to absorb that risk if it happened. There will be a public hearing after the next phase of investigations and information gathering.
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