Metro talks: Mayor Don Iveson on Metro Line problems, Northlands's future and yes, the Accidental Beach
As 2017 winds down, we sat down with Iveson, who is now three months into his second term, to talk what's gone well, what needs to go better, and Edmontonians newly "uncorked" love of the water. These answers have been condensed.
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Q: You said this week that you’ve basically run out of patience with problems on the Metro Line LRT. What are you doing to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen with another project in the city in 2018?
“The major finding (in the Metro Line audit) was that the contract was not managed well.
“In the case of the Valley Line, the contract there is exactly what the auditor recommended, which is a single large contract whereby penalties accrue to all of the suppliers if any one of them is late in delivering the bridge or the tracks or the rolling stock or the signal system.
“Over and above that … Council has made process changes, personnel changes and policy changes and all of that will mean that projects that this council has started that will finish up in two, three or four years will – on balance – be more often on time and on budget.”
Q: Some promoters and trainers have said the combative sports ban instituted last week is going to ruin careers and businesses. Why do you think this move had to be made?
“We can lift the moratorium earlier, we can lift it for select events that are in the cue, but we wanted to send a clear signal that until we as a council had seen the forthcoming report on Tim Hague’s death, and were assured that whatever issues occurred there were taken seriously and solutions were being implemented, we didn’t want to see any more fights …. So if that happens sooner, then we can reconsider the pause that we’ve instituted.
“Council has also said we do not want to be the regulator of this. We think that, like every other province in Canada, this should be handled at the provincial level. If we had a clear signal that that was going to happen over a certain period of time, then on an interim basis it might be easier for us to move back into sanctioning events.”
Q: With Northlands Coliseum closing Jan. 1, what would you like to see go in its place?
A: “I would like to see something that drives lots of traffic, supports business, is good for 118 Avenue, leverages the LRT station that’s there. I think there’s lots of possibilities and I’d like to see development happen there sooner rather than later. But that won’t happen if we spend any length of time second-guessing ourselves son the future of the building.
“There’s 13 acres of land next to an LRT station that has the highest and best use that will serve the community better than a boarded-up building would. Especially if that boarded-up building is going to cost $4,100 a day to secure and maintain, which I think is madness.”
Q: With cannabis legalization coming July 1, what does the city have left to do to prepare?
A: “There are two main issues that arise for us with respect to cannabis coming forth in 2018. One is we have to get ready with our zoning bylaw in terms of making sure that we are thoughtful about where we will allow dispensaries to set up – for example, just like with liquor stores you might not want them across the street from a school or next door to a daycare. And then when these things start to open up, there will be enforcement implications for the city on everything from home grow-ops to larger industrial scale facilities.
“The other bigger issue that has potentially a larger cost around it is, so far municipalities haven’t had any assurances from the provincial and federal governments that we are going to get a share of the revenues that are going to come in from cannabis legalization.
“A big chunk of that cost will be around law enforcement, particularly related to the potential for impaired driving. And so we wouldn’t want to have to raise property taxes to ensure that our police were properly equipped to do enforcement.”
Q: A lot of people were excited about Accidental Beach this summer. What did the way people reacted and took ownership of the beach tell you about Edmontonians, and what do you see being the city’s next move?
“I think it exposed and uncorked kind of a heretofore, not fully acknowledged desire that Edmontonians have to get down near the water.
“We’ll see what happens when construction berms come out. That may wash away like summer love, but I think the underlying yearning that Edmontonians have to be attached to the river and their river valley, it really reignited that. And I think council heard that, and it’s going to lead to some interesting thinking in the coming years.”
Q: Is there still a chance that council would ask the developer to keep the berms in place?
“The paperwork is very complicated, because it (requires) both provincial and federal permission.”
“The bottom line is council is exploring all options to see where we can either maintain the beach, at least in the interim, and were we might create beach-like experiences in other places on the river.”