An artist’s rendering of a custom cable car station integrated into the EPCOR facility of Prairie Sky Gondola Inc.'s proposed Edmonton line. // Image by DIALOG.

Is Edmonton gondola proposal pie in the sky?

Edmonton city council voted 8-5 on Monday to have the City of Edmonton’s administrative staff continue working with Prairie Sky Gondola Inc. to determine the feasibility of a gondola in the River Valley.

The motion also specified that the work should be guided by certain principles:

  • “No public funding requested and all financial risk born by proponents
  • Open books to the city for validation on a confidential and proprietary basis
  • A robust engagement plan for community and indigenous [sic] stakeholders
  • Mutually beneficial integration with public transit
  • Minimized ecological footprint
  • Providing surety, including monetary security, with respect to service continuity or demobilization.”

The work is also supposed to be guided by “an examination of implications of using air rights and emergency response plan for first responders,” an amendment proposed by Councillor Tony Caterina, who was especially adamant that the city negotiates air rights as part of the project.

Those opposed to moving forward with work on the gondola feasibility were councillors Sarah Hamilton, Caterina, Tim Cartmell, Aaron Paquette and Mike Nickel, and the reasons for opposition were many.

Nickel and Cartmell emphasized that the city has higher priority projects on the go.

“I will tell you as a businessman, this is a bad idea,” said Nickel. “Frankly I’ve talked to many in the business community, and I have more connections to the business community here, I would argue, than most on this council, and they have told me quite frankly, ‘This is an absurd idea.'”

He is convinced that the project will ultimately fail, and the city will be left with a “white elephant” and the burden of deconstructing the gondola.

“We need to finish a lot of the projects we’ve already started,” Nickel added, “and that’s what we should be talking about today, not entertaining a gondola for the River Valley.”

“I just do not see how a gondola down to the River Valley is a priority,” said Cartmell.

One of Hamilton’s objections was the cost incurred to the city through staff and council time spent on the project.

“There’s been a lot of conversation also about financial risk. ‘Well, the city’s not putting any money in, so there’s no risk to us.’ But we also know that’s not true because our staff’s time is not cheap. The time for all 13 of us to sit down in a room together is not cheap,” she said.

Paquette’s principal objection was protecting the River Valley.

“You may look at a project like this and say, ‘Well, it’s just a small footprint,’ but we know that when we put down a footprint, [then] we put down another, and another, and another; and that desire to creep back into the River Valley, after there’s been so much work to take those steps out of it, seems absurd to me,” he said.

Voting in favour of proceeding with work on determining the feasibility of the project were Mayor Don Iveson and councillors Michael Walters, Mohinder Banga, Jon Dziadyk, Scott McKeen, Bev Esslinger, Ben Henderson, and Andrew Knack.

Banga argued that despite the trepidation felt by his fellow councillors, the project required no financial investment from the city and, at least as of yet, the city was is not participating in a partnership with Prairie Sky Gondola.

“I know there’s fear of going into a project like this if we had the public dollars, but at this point in time we’re not investing any public dollars,” he said. “Yes, we’re supporting the project with our administration’s knowledge, etc., but that’s like any other project.”

Henderson closed the argument, saying “The risk is theirs.”

But even the councillors in support noted that their vote on Monday did not guarantee support of the project going forward.

“I’m not fearful of continuing the talks right now,” said Dziadyk. “The proponent knows that this is not a free ride and that if this passes they’re not in the clear and they also know that at the next stage of check-in … the standard of rigour will be higher at that point.”

“I am prepared to vote no the gondola project, but I’m not going to do it today,” McKeen said.

The proposed gondola would have stations at five locations: downtown, North Rossdale, Rossdale Power Plant in West Rossdale, End of Steel Park and Whyte Avenue.

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