Protestors concerned about wildlife habitat loss due to construction of the southwest ring road led a walk to a popular beaver pond in the Weaselhead area Saturday.
The biggest issue is the realignment of the Elbow River and construction of a bridge overtop, which could mean the loss of a popular beaver pond, said Diane Stinson, a bird watcher who regularly frequents the area in the southwest corner of Calgary.
“They’ve proposed to fill in 24 wetlands between Highway 8 and Highway 22X,” she said.
“Four of those wetlands directly impact the beaver pond and the beaver pond is a local treasure. People go there all the time to see the wildlife and if the wetlands are filled in as the contractor has applied, the beaver pond will cease to exist.”
But changes were made to address concerns raised during a years-long planning process, says Adam Johnson, a public affairs officer with Alberta Transportation.
“People are obviously concerned,” he said during Saturday’s protest organized by the group, YYC Cares.
“Any damage that might happen to any wildlands, we compensate it three-to-one. We work with Ducks Unlimited and other organizations.
“In the original plan, our project would have come much closer to the beaver pond, but we’ve actually moved the road and changed the plan, so we’re going to have a pretty wide buffer between the two.”
Johnson said trees and other vegetation will also be planted to strengthen the buffer between the road and beaver pond.
The $1.42 billion southwest ring road project will link Highway 8 with Highway 22X and is slated to be completed in the fall of 2018.
The resident group has also filed letters with the province’s Environmental Appeals Board about the design, without success.
“We’ve had two different levels of appeal and our first appeal was dismissed,” Stinson said. “We just heard [Friday] that our second appeal was rejected. They’re saying we’re not directly affected by this.”
The style of bridge being used to cross the Elbow River is also a problem for some members of YYC Cares.
“We were never aware until just recently that instead of an open-span bridge like Stoney Trail in the northwest, this is a cut-and-fill earth and berm dam,” Stinson said.
Founded in 1965 by Grant MacEwan, the Weaselhead is one of three protected parks in Calgary — the other two being the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Griffith Woods Park.
The Weaselhead is a source of Calgary’s drinking water and is “incredibly biodiverse,” said Paul Finkleman, president of the Weaselhead Preservation Society.
“We at the Weaselhead Society call it Calgary’s largest outdoor classroom,” he said.
“We have thousands and thousands of kids every year learning about water ecology, forest ecology, water biology and environmental stewardship. It’s just such a wonderful place, not just for families to enjoy, but for children to learn… right within city limits.”