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No Can Do

by on July 28, 2010

Railroaded. That’s the term that John Kristensen of Strathcona County, Alberta, a former Alberta Assistant Deputy Minister of Parks, uses to describe how he felt finding out that CN Rail, Imperial Oil, and Cando Contracting planned to build a rail yard near his home – without any prior notice, consultation, or consideration of the sensitive nature of the environment he and his family have actively sought to conserve.

The Kristensen’s presence on the land dates back five generations, and the family has long appreciated and respected the great natural beauty of their surroundings, including sensitive habitat for a myriad of wild bird species.

So, the Kristensen’s made a very generous gesture in 1989. They entered into an agreement to preserve the 100 acre area around Bretona Pond as a private conservation area.

Yet, if CN, Imperial Oil, and Cando Contracting get their way, a rail yard with up to 225 oil tankers will soon be wedged in between two designated conservation areas, including the Kristensen’s, on which naturalists have counted a current total of 182 bird species.

The Kristensen’ story is a disturbing one, and one that should serve as a wake up call for all communities around the Edmonton area.

The root of the problem stems back over a century, when rail lines were first being constructed around the region. Parcels of land ranging in size from 3 to 10 hectares were set aside in the event of a community need for a grain elevator. These parcels of land along rail lines occur every 12 to 16 kilometres throughout the entire area.

In many cases, this land has been unused for years, in some cases, not at all for over 100 years.

Enter CN Rail, and a company called Cando Contracting, comprised of former CN and other railway employees with their own unique spin on what the term “conservation” means, moving in the heavy equipment to start razing the land for a new rail yard this past June.

Kristensen immediately voiced his concerns about the project, but was told, on the basis of privilege dating back to that last century, that neither notice or formal environmental assessment was required in order to construct a new rail line.

However, this isn’t a rail line, it’s a rail yard.

This is an important distinction, and one already fully recognized by The Railway Association of Canada, along with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in their “Final Report: Proximity Guidelines and Best Practices”.

Clear distinctions are made in this report between recommended minimum distances for development to rail lines, as opposed to rail yards.

The report sets a recommended minimum building setback of 30 metres from rail lines, but a distance 10 times greater – 300 metres – for rail yards. This is further reflected in CN Rail’s own corporate policy to restrict residential development within 300m of rail yards…

John Kristensen and his family live 163 metres from the proposed rail yard, his neighbour, a mere 68 metres.

This is a proximity problem in the making, and one that should warrant the full attention of the Railway Association of Canada and The Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It’s clearly a conflict, well outside of the guidelines jointly developed to help avoid future railway noise and vibration problems that CN, Cando, and Imperial Oil seem determined to ignore and proceed with anyways.

Further, CN’s own “Environmental Policy” clearly states that it endeavours “to assess environmental impacts before starting a new activity or project,” “to conduct or support research into the environmental impact of its operations” and that CN “promotes the adoption of the principles (of its Policy) by contractors and suppliers.”

Maybe someone at CN Rail could get in touch with Mr. Kristensen to reconcile their Policy to what he has so far been subjected to…

In addition, CN Rail actively promotes its “Community Networking Plan” with its “proactive approach” for “building and maintaining grassroots relationships with key communities in Canada and the United States” with the goal of being able to “better identify and manage emerging community issues.”

Hello CN? If this isn’t an “emerging issue”, then what is?

This entire project is outside of the bounds set by the Railway Association of Canada and The Federation of Canadian Municipalities “Best Practices” Report as well as, apparently, CN’s own public policy.

This is a tailor-made proximity problem, an example of poor planning, and an appalling lack of cooperation, communication, and consideration by CN Rail, Cando, and Imperial Oil.

Imagine if all current-day land use decisions were to be based on the privileges of yesterday, rather than the ethical and social responsibilities of today.

It is inevitable that rail facilities will continue to grow. The question is not growth, but the challenge of developing rail facilities responsibly and mitigating their impacts to communities and to the environment. CN has fallen terribly short in the case of Strathcona county and John Kristensen.

It’s hard to comprehend how CN Rail can regard its role in the location of a new rail yard in the middle of a nature Conservancy, in proximity well outside of current accepted standards as being a sound, responsible idea.

This project is an oily black eye for Imperial Oil, or should I say, BP North.

And as for the contractors at Cando – don’t.

© Copyright 2010

  1. Billy jackson permalink

    Sorry man cn stuff is all federal and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It’s also good commercial development. It’s a good thing it’s just in a farmers field and not in the middle of wood buffalo national park. I’m guessing this guy is an old man that will stick his nose anywhere and cry when he dosnt get hisway.

    • trainjane permalink

      Actually, there’s plenty that can be done about it and John Kristensen is doing it.
      Part of that is keeping the project in the spotlight, to be held up for public scrutiny, and being held accountable, especially as the project is completely out of the proximity guidelines published by The Railway Association of Canada and The Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

      Why the double standard?

      Speaking of double standards, why is it all right to locate a railyard in a non-industrial area next to a nature conservancy, but not okay by a buffalo park?

      As for Mr. Kristensen himself, I think the fact that he and his family took the initative and foresight to create this conservation area in the first place says everything about his character. He’s also a former Assistant Deputy Minister of Alberta Parks.

      Lastly, the farmland being lost to this project will be lost forever. Using farmland as a cheap alternative to industrial land is an unsustainable practice, and one that speaks volumes about the actual measure of consideration that the environment is being given in this project by railway interests – zero.

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