“We must protect our River Valley from development not just today, but permanently. This means that regardless of who your future politicians are, the protection of the River Valley must be fixed and held constant for the next century and beyond.”

– Mike Nickel
Edmonton Mayoral Candidate

The Problem

A beautiful photo of our river valley taken by local photographer Hugo Sanchez. Visit his website https://hugosanchez.smugmug.com/

Edmonton’s River Valley is one of our most valuable and cherished assets. Like any asset, it can increase or decrease in value over time. While the value of the River Valley to our quality of life cannot be calculated in mere dollars and cents, the city’s finances affect our ability to acquire private lands in the River Valley to further add to this important resource.

There will always be pressure from others to develop the River Valley. The Solar Farm, the Gondola and other projects are part of the ongoing erosion of Edmonton’s crown jewel.  Our River Valley provides a quality-of-life benefit to Edmontonians of all backgrounds and from all walks of life. A permanent solution needs to be found to protect against the possibility of such projects destroying this shared green space.

Given the size and condition of Edmonton’s economy, it would be nearly impossible to acquire all the necessary land in the River Valley, as called for by our citizens and other interested parties. Also, given the restraints on government cash flow, very little money (if any) will be coming from other orders of government and what comes will be earmarked for competing needs of health, education and welfare.

This policy would allow Edmontonians to take the initiative and protect the River Valley themselves by providing them a vehicle that permanently acquires and safeguards land for future generations. Using a focused and limited tax credit system, the City of Edmonton and Edmontonians will be able to reach beyond our borders to raise the needed finances with private sector companies, non-government organizations, and individuals to reach our permanent goal:  the complete and secure preservation of our River Valley.

Outcomes

A beautiful photo of the ecology of our river valley.

As the city continues to grow, more and more Edmontonians will want to take advantage of the experiences and lifestyle the River Valley offers. However, the existing amount of city-owned land has a finite ability to provide and sustain recreational activities. The answer to this limitation is to acquire the 1900-2400 square kilometres of land in the River Valley currently in private hands. (See attached map of where these lands currently exist.) Approximately 40% of the land in the River Valley that would need to be acquired is privately owned at this time. The fair market value of this land is estimated at $260 million.

A purchase of that magnitude is beyond the financial means of the City of Edmonton and would draw funds away from services Edmontonians rely on. However, we believe the Government of Alberta can help ensure this private land can be transferred to the City of Edmonton at no capital cost to itself.

Taking Care of Our Own Problems

The Government of Alberta can use its taxation powers to help the City of Edmonton create additional permanent park space and preserve the River Valley for current and future generations of Edmontonians. This objective can be achieved without additional provincial funding by implementing a 110 percent tax credit to individuals or businesses that turn river valley land over to the city to be used as permanent park space.

The existing conservation reserve is not a viable tool for protecting river valley lands from future development. Reserve land can only be taken during specific times in the development approval process. Because all the areas surrounding the River Valley have already been developed, there will be little opportunity to do this in the future. In addition, the City is obligated to pay fair market value for land taken as conservation reserve, which it does not have the financial resources to do.

With the right approach, all lands in the River Valley will continue to benefit Edmontonians in perpetuity. As the city grows, and economic conditions and administrations change, it is likely there will be continued pressure to develop the River Valley. We have recently seen evidence of this and want to assure Edmontonians it will not happen in the future.

The Approach

A beautiful photo of the ecology of our river valley.

The approach we are suggesting contains the following elements:

  1. A separate arm’s length organization will be utilized to maintain and preserve River Valley lands.
  2. The purchase of these additional lands will come with a caveat that will prevent any future rezoning applications.
  3. Tax credits that are accrued will apply to all provincial and municipal levies.
  4. Land would be turned over to the City for operations or a new River Valley Board may be created and funded to ensure standards and proper priorities are set and followed through.
  5. Any tax credits that are issued will apply for three years past the date of purchase.
  6. This change in legislation would have a sunset clause of five years with a five-year renewal option.
  7.  To reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and improve long-term results, an amalgamated Environmental Office would be created within the City of Edmonton to manage existing and new portfolio.

There is no office at present to speak on behalf of the ecological planners. Furthermore, there is little understanding of ecology by decision-makers. Much work is ignored – one example is that the provincial wetland policy is not being followed in Edmonton. There is little to almost no consideration of biodiversity. To support this policy, the following City of Edmonton actions needs to be also established:

  1. The amalgamated Environmental Office should have a coordinator, plus city staff (including the city’s ecological planners, tree management planners, etc.). The coordinator should be a senior position reporting to director level. This office’s work should cross organizational chart siloes so that they are acting as internal consultants on all city plans and projects.
  2. The Energy Transition and Climate Resilience Committee should be re-named the Natural Areas, Biodiversity, and Climate Change Advisory Committee, and widen its scope and committee knowledge to reflect this change. It is important to have biodiversity and climate change within the same group to avoid poor planning arising out of the argument that biodiversity and climate change are “competing environmental interests.” This committee would report directly to Council.

The Solution

The first step is including the policy decisions in the provincial budget. The second step is implementing the tax benefits through legislation in one of two ways:

  1. Amend both the Alberta Corporate Tax Act, and the Alberta Personal Income Tax Act, and their respective regulations to include the tax benefits, including the criteria and eligible amounts. Amending both Acts ensures that both individuals and corporations can participate.
  2. Create a stand-alone Act allowing for the issuance of tax credit certificates, like the Investing in a Diversified Alberta Economy Act.  These certificates entitle the holder to credits under the taxation acts listed in option 1.  A Regulation under the new Act can set out the specific amounts or formulas and finer details of the program.