Stampede’s ‘greening project’ blasted by Ramsay residents

Corrals on river floodplain pose threat says community

The Calgary Stampede is asking the city to override a 25-year-old bylaw that prevents it from developing large horse corrals — labelled a “river park greening project” — in Ramsay along the eastern floodplain of the Elbow River.

Ramsay residents however say they weren’t properly consulted and will present city council with a petition to shelve the project. That’s because the proposed “Heritage Zone” described by the Stampede as a future “inner-city destination for Calgarians” will carve a pathway into Scotsman’s Hill force wildlife away from the river and house horses — and possibly other livestock — just metres away from the river’s edge.

Yet fighting the Stampede and the city has become an uphill battle says Arthur Matsui vice-president external of Ramsay’s community association. “It’s like taking on Goliath” he says. “In this case the approving authority the owner and the landlord are all the same person so it makes it very difficult.”

The community’s worry says Matsui is the likelihood of feces and urine from corralled animals flowing into the Elbow River.

The plan so far has the endorsement of the city’s planning commission. Before the project can proceed the Stampede will have to get council to exempt a bylaw forbidding any structures to be built “on in or under a floodway.” The bylaw will allow projects if the city believes they won’t have negative effects on the river’s environment.

Sandwiched between the Elbow River and Scotsman’s Hill the parcel of land currently houses a warehouse storage facilities and underground fuel tanks. The Stampede plans to replace that with tree-lined courtyards gardens and plazas — as well as a performance stage and four large horse corrals for the Indian Village.

Ald. Joe Ceci says the redevelopment in his ward isn’t proceeding as originally planned and hopes his council colleagues won’t support the amendment when it goes to council June 7. “It’s probably not a really big problem to our overall environment but it is kind of going against how we thought things were going to go in the area” he says. “We thought there was going to be a greening of the riverside environment and the proposal looks like it will green it a lot but during Stampede it’s going to house animals. We can do better than that.”

The Stampede on the other hand says the redevelopment was “enthusiastically endorsed” four years ago by city council neighbouring communities including Ramsay and the Calgary River Valleys Committee (now called Calgary River Forum) — an environmental group that is chaired by Stampede operations manager Gerry McHugh.

But Ramsay residents say the plans have recently changed without any communication from the city or the Stampede. Matsui and other Ramsay residents say they are concerned about some of the language contained in the amendment — specifically that it states that the corrals will house “livestock.”

A revised version says that term should be deleted; yet it is still littered throughout the latest document. City and Stampede officials insist the term was “misused” and will be scrapped. “There has never been an intent for livestock accommodation; it is simply temporary corrals for horses” says Richard Goecke co-ordinator with the city’s planning and design department. The plan is to house the horses temporarily for about a month during June and July each year.

He says much of the confusion and frustration among Ramsay residents can be blamed on the proposal’s early draft and the community’s civic affairs liaison — Matsui. “The representative for the community association does have and has had that correct terminology since April 15” says Goecke. “How this has been assimilated in the community at large seems to be a point of some concern.”

Longtime Ramsay resident Josie Casale says city and Stampede officials have been keeping residents in the dark about the redevelopment. “They should be advising everybody and let people make up their own mind” she says. “Just because you rezone the place doesn’t mean that it’s going to be good — it’s a flood area. Maybe it only floods every 20 years but it’s still a flood area.” The last time the area flooded was in 2005.

Casale says she’s also concerned about housing horses so close to the river because of what she has seen happen during past Stampedes. “Many a time I’ve gone down there and seen the feces and the urine going into the river” she says. “I’m not saying it’s happening now but I’ve seen it in the past. Most of the residents have seen it it’s nothing new.”

Whether it’s corrals or livestock accommodation and whether they’re temporary or permanent Matsui says housing animals within a few metres of the river is environmentally unsound. “Shit is shit and if it washes into the river it doesn’t matter” he says. “It’s just sound environmental practice not to allow this to happen.”

It’s not entirely clear which government agency would oversee any environmental studies of the impact horses — or livestock — would have on the river. Fast Forward Weekly contacted several provincial and federal departments for clarification but all were uncertain who has jurisdiction.

The city hasn’t done an environmental study to assess the impact horses have on the area. But Goecke says the Stampede has assured any waste and bedding material will be cleared away daily.

A proposed chain-link fence and pathway along the length of the Heritage Zone at the foot of Scotsman’s Hill also concerns Ramsay residents say Matsui and Casale. The fence they say would be a hurdle for wildlife that live in the wooded escarpment would cut off biking and walking access to downtown and would present a safety hazard for pathway users.

City officials also expressed concern about safety along the proposed Scotsman’s Hill path which could be a “potentially dangerous” space for users of the path according to one city administration document. “There are issues of safety here” says Matsui. “Do you want to go behind a concrete building on the pathway at night or even during the day?”

Goecke says there will be at least three access points along the fence for the public to use. Commuters who currently use the hill and cut across Stampede grounds to get downtown would be “trespassing on Stampede grounds” he says.