St. Albert mayor says region must share infrastructure costs with Edmonton

EDMONTON – Edmonton should not be left holding the bag for major regional projects such as the downtown arena and the $205-million interchange at 41st Avenue, the mayor of St. Albert said Wednesday.

But the neighbours are unlikely to open their wallets unless the province is very persuasive.

“We do have a cost-sharing model (written into the regional plan) that we’ve never exercised,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse, who is also chair of the Capital Region Board. “It’s the political will, honestly. Political will to exercise it has been missing.”

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel took the province and regional players to task in his state of the city address last week, saying Edmonton is paying an “unfair share” in a region of 1.2 million people.

Now Doug Griffiths, minister of Municipal Affairs, is scheduled to address all of the mayors and reeves at a Capital Region Board meeting Thursday morning. He’ll be speaking about regional co-operation, but was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

The interchange at 41st Avenue on Edmonton’s southern border is being built mainly to serve a new CP Rail intermodal yard planned for the east side of the QEII. Edmonton expects to pay $72.5 million of the $205 million cost, with the province and the federal government picking up the rest.

The County of Leduc has agreed to pay $7,000 toward one of the necessary studies, said Coun. Ed Gibbons. The Capital Region Board has never formally discussed if it should be cost-shared throughout the region.

Part of the problem with cost-sharing is the complexity, said Crouse.

“I don’t know how far it should go. Do you cost share on homelessness, social policy? Do you cost share on bridges? LRT? What do you cost share on?” he said. “What percentage of the downtown arena should St. Albert pay?

“But I think there are some that we could find our way through, and I do think we have to do that someday,” he said. St. Albert has already agreed to build a $35-million park-and-ride facility in northeast Edmonton and contribute $100,000 for designing the northwest LRT line.

Relationships at the Capital Region Board have deteriorated lately, said Gibbons, who represents Edmonton on the board.

Edmonton didn’t formally ask the region to pay for part of the 41st Avenue interchange only because “we didn’t want to be the big bully,” he said. “We felt it was going to be the explosion we didn’t want.”

Instead of 41st Avenue, it was Parkland County’s proposed Acheson industrial expansion on Edmonton’s west border that caused the recent blow up.

Edmonton voted against it, using its veto on the board to block the project. But that’s because the plan called for Edmonton to build all the road access points, house the workers and get none of the higher industrial tax revenue, said Gibbons.

It would just further the imbalance across the region, leaving Edmonton paying more than its fair share for projects that will help the whole region succeed, he said. The municipalities need to focus on what’s best for the region, but they are caught up in petty local politics, he said.

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“Why doesn’t the province come to the table and say, ‘OK guys, play well in the sandbox,’” Gibbons said. “Somewhere along the line we have to grow up.”

The voting structure for the regional board means Edmonton, with about 70 per cent of the population, can block any proposal from going through at the board level.

But so can any eight other municipalities, including small towns like Redwater and Thorsby on the fringes of the region. That means a voting block representing as little as two per cent of the regional population also has a veto.

Mel Smith, mayor of Redwater, said there’s no way his town of 2,100 about 60 kilometres northeast of Edmonton is interested in cost-sharing for projects in the city.

Even if cost-sharing is based on size, their town budget is too small and their citizens won’t profit from most of the initiatives, he said. “Even the LRT, while it’s important as heck to the City of Edmonton, it doesn’t mean a thing for us.”

Smith wants the province to rework the membership requirements for the Capital Region Board. It makes sense for Sturgeon County to be there, since it has the money from industry and borders the larger city, but he wants Redwater out.

He’s preparing to petition the minister, he said. “We would hope that discussion will come up shortly. We have some appointments scheduled.”