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- The proposed Big Island Provincial Park1 would lie within the 770-hectare Big Island-Woodbend Natural Area2 along a 5.5 kilometre stretch of the North Saskatchewan River in southwest Edmonton. The area is mostly undeveloped wilderness that includes old-growth poplar and spruce forest, sand dunes, and wetlands. Almost inaccessible except from the river, the area is inhabited by an abundance of wildlife including deer and moose.
- Three-quarters of the land is privately held by six landowners.
- In 2008 Qualico Developments proposed to mine the area for gravel but withdrew its plan in the face of public opposition led by the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society3. The land was sold to Kanata Metis Cultural Enterprises, owned by the Elizabeth Métis settlement, which revived the gravel mining proposal in 2011. Following heated public debate, Edmonton City council voted 7-6 to block the project.
- There is growth and development pressure on other parts of the North Saskatchewan River Valley, notably in the fast-growing southwest region of the City. Epcor has proposed a 45,000-panel solar farm4 adjacent to the E.L. Smith water treatment plant in the southwest quadrant that would occupy 23 hectares of valley land. Epcor is also seeking to expand its footprint and sewage volumes at the Gold Bar waste treatment plant in the valley east of downtown.
- Public demand for recreational amenities on the river and along its banks is increasing. The River Valley Alliance5, a consortium of the seven municipalities bordering the river from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan, has been working for over a decade to establish one of the largest urban parks in North America by connecting the trail system from end-to-end of the 100-kilometre stretch of the valley within the Capital Region. This would include all the valley parks lying within the City of Edmonton’s “Ribbon of Green6.” The RVA also works with its partner municipalities to enhance public access to the river and valley through the development of new boat launches and other infrastructure including the new funicular in the heart of Edmonton. The extraordinary popularity of the “Accidental Beach7” in 2017 sparked wide public interest in the recreational potential of the river, as has the RVA’s two-year-old RiverFest8, which attracted over 2,400 attendees in 2018.
- Following the catastrophic 2013 floods in southern Alberta the provincial government commissioned flood risk and mitigation studies for all the major river basins. The 2015 North Saskatchewan River Basin Study9, warned that the risk of another catastrophic river flood on the scale of the 1915 disaster10 in Edmonton is underappreciated. Water and sewage treatment facilities, recreational and cultural assets, transportation infrastructure, and residential areas are all at risk. The study recommended a number of flood mitigation options including berms and levees or a control dam and reservoir west of the city.
- The UCP understands that the North Saskatchewan River Valley is the Capital Region’s greatest natural outdoor recreational asset and an essential part of quality of life in the region.
- Industrial development should be minimized throughout the valley and prohibited within the Capital Region from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan.
- The proposed Big Island Provincial Park would be a major addition to the City of Edmonton Ribbon of Green valley parks system and the River Valley Alliance vision for creating one of the largest urban parks in North America.
- A UCP government will be guided by a “Parks for People” philosophy that balances conservation, the economy, and the universal human need for outdoor recreation and communion with nature.
The United Conservative Party shares the vision of the River Valley Alliance to transform over 100 KM of river valley into “an extraordinary park that becomes the single, unifying and defining characteristic of the Capital region — just as Stanley Park and Central Park are for Vancouver and New York.”
A UCP government will work with the City of Edmonton, neighbouring municipalities, Aboriginal communities, local conservation groups and other stakeholders to realize the vision of one of the world’s great metropolitan parks.
Because immediate action is needed to achieve this goal, we will:
- Withdraw provincial support and funding for a large proposed solar farm slated for land adjacent to the EL Smith Water Treatment Plant that would permanently disrupt the river valley; and
- Create the Big Island Provincial Park along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Southwest Edmonton, working with the city, the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society, the Enoch First Nation, and others. The park would cover some 770 hectares, provide enormous new recreation opportunities, and would be the biggest contribution to the dream of a ribbon of green along the North Saskatchewan in decades.
- A UCP government would provide up to $10 million over two years to support land acquisition and development costs associated with the creation of a new Big Island Provincial Park.
- This contribution would in part be funded by reprofiling the $2 million earmarked by the NDP government to subsidize an industrial-scale solar farm immediately to the North of the proposed park.
- In addition, a United Conservative government will earmark $300,000 annually for park maintenance and development.
- The UCP will support the City of Edmonton’s application to the federal government for funding to create Big Island Provincial Park through the Canada Nature Fund.
- The UCP will support the vision of the River Valley Alliance to connect the trail system and improve public accessibility to valley parklands from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan with the goal of establishing one of the largest urban parks in North America.
- A UCP government would consider the recommendations for flood mitigation contained in the 2015 North Saskatchewan River Basin Study, and review options for protecting critical infrastructure including utility, transportation, residential and recreational assets in the valley.