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Fisheries Challenges Associated with Ray Gibbon Drive at Riel Pond and the Sturgeon River in St. Albert, Alberta


Ray Gibbon Drive, west of St. Albert, Alberta, currently functions as a two lane arterial roadway constructed to alleviate local traffic congestion and provide an alternate commuting route for the residents of St. Albert. Planning took place over 30 years, prolonged primarily because of environmental concerns. After four years of concentrated effort, two roadway sections are now open to traffic, linking St. Albert to west Edmonton and northwest Alberta. Ray Gibbon Drive passes through Riel Pond (an existing storm pond and former sewage lagoon with contaminated substrate), crosses the slow-moving Sturgeon River and runs adjacent to Big Lake (in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park) and Riel Marsh, both sensitive bird habitats. Because of the project’s location, site sensitivities and a long history of public interest, the City of St. Albert required an environmental assessment and federal and provincial agencies (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Environment) required environmental approvals. Construction challenges included: Construction of the roadway over an abandoned landfill with the risk of leakage of leachate; the need to work in Riel Pond (which discharged to the Sturgeon River) while not releasing contaminated bottom sediments, or a non-native fish species (threespine stickleback) discovered in the Pond; scheduling all work outside the period April to July (inclusive) imposed by fish and other breeding wildlife sensitivities (which led to challenging work conditions); and the need to compensate for lost fish habitat as a result of placing piers and abutments in the Sturgeon River. This last challenge was accentuated by the realization that the only suitable location for compensatory fish habitat was a reach of riverbank that had been formerly disturbed to construct one of the Riel Pond containment berms, leading to the need to relocate an entire pond berm. Operational issues included the requirement for the permanent outfall(s) to be screened to prevent release of the very small, non-native threespine stickleback and their eggs. Mitigative measures and studies included several inventories to characterize fish populations in Riel Pond; designing temporary pond dewatering systems to assist with construction but prevent escape of sediments and non-native fish; characterization of lost riverine fish habitat; creation of 6,000 sq. m. of new pike rearing habitat; and post-construction monitoring of the compensatory habitat for a ten year period (ongoing). This project was closely monitored throughout by very attentive environmental special interest groups concerned with potential impacts to valued natural resources. The road opened for traffic in 2007 with achievement of all environmental protection measures despite the numerous challenges. 

Conference Paper Details

Session title:
Tracy Allen
Lynn Maslen
Steven J. Melton
Education, Human resources