Why can’t we build anything significant anymore?
Is it even possible to build a critical public works project any more? You know, something bigger than a bus shelter?
One has to wonder. Pipelines are stalled. The Springbank dry dam faces powerful opposition. Now comes the inevitable fight against the southwest ring road, or major elements of it.
Governments have ceded so much power to regulatory bodies and the courts that almost any project can be stalled.
Politicians did this to avoid making decisions that infuriate vocal interest groups. They invoke the need for “social licence.” All that has done, across the land, is made the opposition more effective and determined.
Time after time, projects that matter to the vast majority just get stuck in the mud.
Ring road critics under the name YYC Cares will make their case to Alberta Environmental Appeals Board next month.
In August, the board granted a stay of construction work in four wetland areas YYC Cares says are under threat.
Brian Mason, minister of transportation and infrastructure, is gung-ho to get this built. But Shannon Phillips, the zealous environment minister, will make the call after panel findings come out, who knows when.
She could order more delays. If she doesn’t, YYC Cares could go to court. This sounds familiar — as in, say, Springbank dry dam, Trans Mountain pipeline, Energy East pipeline, etc.
Uniquely, the ring road has a firm and dangerous deadline.
Vehicles must be on the new road by May 2022. If they aren’t, the land will revert to the Tsuut’ina Nation.
This would be a hard sell to the public. The road itself will cost $1.42 billion and the nation was paid an extra $342 million for land and other considerations.
Obviously, missing that deadline would be an epic political and financial disaster.
The province isn’t sugarcoating the risk of the YYC Cares challenge.
“We are definitely facing the potential for delay of some elements of the ring road,” says Adam Johnston, Alberta Transportation spokesman stationed in Calgary to deal with this project.
“And that’s specific to the 90th Avenue interchange where it will connect with the ring road.”
YYC Cares advocates have another issue, too — a planned bridge they see as a danger to the Weaselhead Flats.
The group wants it to span the entire valley, to a length of one kilometre.
Johnston says that would be extremely expensive, and not as environmentally sound.
Another possible complication is the federal permit needed to open the sluices on a major river diversion.
Johnston says these approvals are routinely awarded and he expects no trouble.
But you can never count on the feds for alacrity, especially when vocal opposition is taking shape.
It will be a tense day in cabinet when the NDP thrashes out what to do about the YYC Cares challenge.
This kind of Calgary fight goes back decades. Opposition to new river crossings was once so fierce that in 1995 city council passed the GoPlan, which prohibited any new crossings for 30 years.
Many councils later, the GoPlan no longer has force. Stoney Trail, I notice on that scenic drive, has a river running under it.
But YYC Cares continues the historic southwest opposition to any crossings or tampering with the Weaselhead.
And the Tsuut’ina, as it happens, are doing much the same thing with their own opposition to the Springbank flood prevention project.
It’s not on First Nation territory, but the band raises the prospect of environmental damage and flooding.
The Tsuut’ina have called in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
They’re determined to have the whole project moved to McLean Creek.
Prospects for a major flood mitigation project within a decade of the 2013 flood look dimmer by the day.
The same patterns disrupt one project after another.
Trans Mountain expansion was approved by one B.C. government, and rejected by the next. Energy East proponents have suspended their application in the face of mid-game rule changes by the National Energy Board.
Ex-prime minister Joe Clark once defined Canada as a “community of communities.” Today, it’s more like a chaos of complainants.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald
Certain segments of the ring road project are currently on hold due to a stay on construction in four wetland areas.