Edmonton council won’t explore permanent beaches along North Saskatchewan River

Permament beaches in Edmonton River Valley not likely
WATCH ABOVE: It doesn't sound like Edmonton's Accidental Beach will become permanent any time soon. On Wednesday, there was a reality check on how challenging and expensive it could be. Vinesh Pratap explains.

There won’t be permanent beaches set up along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River anytime soon.

“I don’t want to spend millions of dollars, or over program it, or put a bunch of infrastructure in,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “It’s kind of use at your own risk.”

A plan to possibly build permanent beaches along the river was debated and eventually turned down by a city committee on Wednesday morning.

The idea came up following the popularity of Accidental Beach, which popped up last summer in the Cloverdale area.

READ MORE: E. coli, sharp objects and slippery surfaces among Accidental Beach risks: city

A city report identified six possible locations for beaches in the river valley. However, it would cost the city up to $200,000 per site to explore the locations further. Beyond that, the design work alone could be an additional $900,000 to $1.3 million.

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The city said the cost, coupled with the unpredictability of the river, were major factors in the decision not to move forward with permanent beaches.

“I think a lot of people have come to understand that there is a lot of unpredictability around how that river functions,” said Jason Meliefste, branch manager of infrastructure for the City of Edmonton.

“When you look back year over year, now having the benefit of a little bit of a small sample size – only a few years – but having that experience I think has really opened people’s perspectives around what this means.”

READ MORE: City prepares for Accidental Beach by implementing parking, garbage, enforcement changes

The possibility of beach sites isn’t completely down the drain, though; the city said it will continue to explore the idea of accessing sandbars on the river when they appear.

Iveson said it’s important to continue to educate people about the river and encourage people to take advantage of the city’s picturesque waterway.

“You have to be mindful that the river’s powerful. There are risks. It’s use at your own risk,” he said. “We really want to encourage people, whether they’re paddleboarding or canoeing or getting down by the bank or doing a little fishing, this is great. I’m loving people embracing their river because for a century, people turned their back on it as dangerous and dirty and it isn’t those things as long as you’re mindful of the risks.”

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A sandbar appears in the North Saskatchewan River near the Fort Edmonton footbridge Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2018.
A sandbar appears in the North Saskatchewan River near the Fort Edmonton footbridge Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

Public engagement sessions are planned for this fall, to see what risks, concerns or barriers people might have when it comes to accessing the North Saskatchewan River.

“We hope to be able to really help ourselves better understand exactly what it is specifically that attracts people to wanting to be that close to the river,” Meliefste said.

“Is it the sand? Is it the water? Is it the natural experience? Is it being around other people? Is it the weather? There’s a number of different variables that basically help us understand what influences people’s attraction to being there.”

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Watch below: Premier Rachel Notley visited Accidental Beach for the first time over the August long weekend. She said she wants there to be a more intentional push to ensure all Edmontonians are able to enjoy the North Saskatchewan River.

Notley wants to be more ‘intentional’ about enjoying Edmonton’s river after Accidental Beach visit
Notley wants to be more ‘intentional’ about enjoying Edmonton’s river after Accidental Beach visit

Councillor Scott McKeen said the impromptu beach taught the city a good lesson in the end.

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“Our reaction here was maybe a little bit, maybe wasn’t prompt enough,” he said Wednesday. “But now we know this, next time this happens we could get porta potties up out there, we could get signs out there. We’ve learned a lesson here about the need to respond a little quicker.”

“I think we can be fairly hands-off,” Iveson added. “And if demand is spiking, now that we’ve had the experience of working with Accidental Beach we kind of know what we need to do to respond to that.”

READ MORE: Accidental Beach under water due to high North Saskatchewan River streamflow

The beach wasn’t nearly as popular this summer as it was in 2017. Meliefsta said any further work the city does for beaches will be kept simple with garbage pickup, porta potties, parking restrictions and regular patrols, but no large investments in infrastructure.

Watch below: Ongoing Global News coverage of Accidental Beach in Edmonton