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Dozens speak for and against Prairie Sky Gondola proposal at Edmonton city hall

Click to play video: 'Dozens speak for and against Prairie Sky Gondola proposal at city hall' Dozens speak for and against Prairie Sky Gondola proposal at city hall
Edmonton city council chambers were packed Wednesday, when dozens of speakers shared their thoughts on the estimated $155-million Prairie Sky Gondola proposal that would stretch from Old Strathcona to the edge of downtown. Breanna Karsens-Smith reports. – Aug 10, 2022

Edmonton city council chambers were packed Wednesday morning as councillors debated the Prairie Sky Gondola proposal.

There were 56 speakers signed up to share their thoughts on the estimated $155-million development that would stretch from Old Strathcona to the edge of downtown.

If the project moves forward, there would be five stations and 19 towers, all of which would be situated on city land.

City administration has come to an agreement with developers on the use of city land for the project. It is now up to councillors to decide whether to approve that agreement.

Prairie Sky Gondola has agreed to pay about $1.1 million annually to lease and operate on public property.

Both the public and councillors had a say on the agreement Wednesday.

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Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, the president and CEO of Prairie Sky, called the meeting a “rather definitive decision-making moment.”

Read more: Gondola developer would pay Edmonton $1.1 million annually for city land

The company brought multiple representatives to discuss the financial feasibility of the proposal, tourism opportunities and the archeological assessment that would be done on the Rossdale lands.

Cameron Alexis, the former chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation and current CEO of Indigenous tourism company Tribal Chief Ventures Inc., told council the project would be valuable for Indigenous tourism in the area.

Click to play video: 'Prairie Sky Gondola agrees to lease City of Edmonton land for $1.1M annually' Prairie Sky Gondola agrees to lease City of Edmonton land for $1.1M annually
Prairie Sky Gondola agrees to lease City of Edmonton land for $1.1M annually – Jul 29, 2022

Both Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Coun. Erin Rutherford asked about integration with the Edmonton Transit Service.

Representatives with the developer confirmed there would be no integration and users would not be able to use an ETS transfer or pass for the gondola.

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Rutherford expressed concern that the gondola would take riders away from public transit.

Even if council does approve the land agreement, the project would not be a done deal.

Read more: The ‘day has come’ for Alberta to embrace urban gondola projects: Developer

Prairie Sky Gondola chief strategy officer Bob Black told councillors there would still be a long list of conditions to be met, including engagement with the public and Indigenous groups.

There would also have to be an archeological assessment of the west Rossdale lands where bones have previously been discovered.

“We in no way underestimate the scope of work or the scrutiny we will receive,” Black told council about the assessment.

One Indigenous speaker, whose ancestors are buried at the Rossdale Indigenous Cemetery, profoundly said, “My family is not an archeological project.”

Cody Sharphead, a First Nations person with a background in archeology, would lead the assessment.

That would include the use of ground-penetrating radar which Black said would preferably be done by an Indigenous-owned company.

Read more: Company behind Edmonton gondola project would incorporate Rossdale power plant

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Both Sharphead and Black indicated that if graves were discovered, that would significantly change the project. However, they did not say the project would be cancelled in that circumstance.

The developer has said multiple times that there would be no public funding or subsidies needed for the project and that it would be completely privately funded.

They said the project would be “minimally intrusive” and aims to enhance the beauty of the river valley, especially at night. It was also confirmed that there will be private security available at all stations, as well as audio-visual security.

City administration told councillors Wednesday that the only costs to the city identified were indirect costs in the form of staffing resources.

While many of the public presenters supported the gondola project, there were several with hesitations. Ritchie Mill owner Scott Hughes expressed concern about how the gondola would impact land agreements, and also the business in the heritage building.

Edmonton resident Chelsea Boos said the city should be giving the land back to the Indigenous community and not to a private company to create a gondola. And wastewater researcher Jacqueline Noga expressed concern about the changing environment of the river and the chance of flooding. She noted Rossdale is in a floodplain.

The project’s next phase includes risk for the developers in that the project could be dropped. They said they are prepared to absorb that risk if it should happen. There will be a public hearing after the next phase of investigations and information gathering.

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