Why can’t we build any­thing sig­nif­i­cant any­more?

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DON BRAID dbraid@post­media.com twit­ter:@DonBraid

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.


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