June 19, 2019 8:47 pm

Solar panel project in Edmonton’s river valley put on hold

Renderings of the solar farm in the Edmonton river valley.

Courtesy: EPCOR

The proposed solar farm for Edmonton’s river valley is on hold after city council heard about the history of the site and its importance to the Enoch Cree.

On Wednesday, Rob Houle from the Swan River First Nation walked city council through the history, explained the ceremonial importance of the land next to the river and how it was once a Sundance site.

“For people who don’t understand Indigenous ceremony, once a Sundance is complete, you do not take down the lodge.

“You leave the lodge to fall on its own, which would explain why a lot of the artifacts were probably found together in the same time, the same place, the same location,” Houle said.

READ MORE: Proposed Edmonton river valley solar farm to be voted on by council

Council asked Epcor to resume work with Enoch. Councillor Ben Henderson also added an amendment to have Epcor come back with more information that specifies the location of solar farm site, which opens the door to possibly selecting another location.

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That add on is the only thing that calmed down an agitated Councillor Aaron Paquette, who was extremely upset that city council was trying to force Enoch and Epcor back together again, after Enoch pulled support of the project just before the public hearing process began this week.

“The thing that really bothers me is that we’re not even considering another option,” Paquette said. “That’s extremely troublesome for me, personally, trying to keep an open mind.”

Houle cautioned city council and suggested proceeding carefully and slowly.

“I think mitigation efforts and accommodation efforts — if you want to call them that — are not wholly sufficient and definitely warrants further conversation.”

He said they’ve got to be more than symbolic.

“If times have changed, and if anything like the recently approved Trans Mountain Pipeline will tell us, is that the consultation and accommodation process has to be meaningful throughout.”

READ MORE: Citizens asked to weigh in on proposed solar farm in Edmonton river valley

“It can’t be a simple note-taking exercise, and then a small penance given to the Indigenous people that are participating in it, so that you can say you talked to them and you’ve given something.”

“It’s always been our intent to continue to have conversations on this project,” said Craig Bonneville, Epcor’s director for the solar farm project, after the council vote to defer it.

“Meaningfully engage — which is why we did intend to submit this referral motion… when we realized that they could not support the solar project in its current form.”

No timeline was set by city council on when the public hearing would resume.

“We haven’t heard a lot of detail on their reasoning but we fully intend on reaching out very quickly to understand that and to work collaboratively with them,” Bonneville told reporters.

Wednesday’s continuation of the public hearing heard opponents criticize the proposal, saying they like the idea of Epcor reducing greenhouse gas emissions but don’t like that specific location.

Watch below (June 16): Steps to approve EPCOR’s contentious solar farm proposal are moving ahead with city council. The proposed site is on EPCOR land but also in Edmonton’s river valley. Sarah Komadina reports.

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