Advocates worry southeast Calgary development could devastate natural wetlands and habitats

·5 min read
Advocates say the development of Ricardo Ranch would likely lead to the destruction of critical wetlands and a thriving ecosystem.  (Nathaniel Schmidt - image credit)
Advocates say the development of Ricardo Ranch would likely lead to the destruction of critical wetlands and a thriving ecosystem. (Nathaniel Schmidt - image credit)

Environmental advocates say a proposed suburban development in southeast Calgary would be built on a environmentally sensitive area. There are concerns construction could mean the destruction of thriving natural wetlands and a riparian area along the Bow River.

Ricardo Ranch is a 570-hectare area south of Seton. Its area structure plan was approved by city council in 2019.

In July, the city gave the green light for three communities in Ricardo Ranch: Seton Ridge, Logan Landing and Nostalgia.

The proposed developments are now in the land use/outline plan stage, which involves more detailed environmental studies and analysis, including a biophysical impact assessment, a great blue heron colony study and a slope stability study.

Nathaniel Schmidt, an aspiring environmental lawyer and a board member of the Alberta Wilderness Association, says this area should be protected. He recently visited the land.

"I saw a lot of native species to begin with that were relatively healthy given their proximity to development that already exists in the city. So, lots of native wildflowers, native shrubs, native trees, some productive wetlands that were being used primarily by birds," he said.

"Over the couple of hours I was there, I identified about 30 bird species.… Essentially what I saw was an intact, functioning and healthy ecosystem that is set to now be home to 16 to 20,000 people."

Schmidt says building on the site flies in the face of the city's climate goals and strategy. He says one of the best ways to mitigate the effects of climate change is to keep intact, healthy ecosystems.

"And right here within the borders of Calgary we have an extremely productive wetland area in a riparian zone, which is a huge carbon sink and also can help to mitigate floods and many other effects of extreme weather coming from climate change," he said. "And it also supports, as I saw myself, an endangered species with the bank swallow."

Nathaniel Schmidt
Nathaniel Schmidt

Coun. Evan Spencer, who represents the area, says environmental concerns will receive high-level consideration from the city and developer.

Across Deerfoot Trail, Spencer notes, there are concerns that come out of the Cranston and Riverstone area in terms of how people treat environmental reserve land.

"There's going to be very, very generous setbacks and from what I understand, and an awful lot of green space set aside in these areas. But, yeah, there will be issues. To say that there won't be isn't true," he said.

"I'm particularly interested about where the chips will fall in terms of the heron rookery.… Ultimately, we have to live responsibly alongside nature and critters that share these spaces."

Genesis Land Development Corp., the developer, said in a statement it is committed to protecting and enhancing the areas of "environmental significance" and will not be "developing over the wetlands or destroying natural habitat."

"Wetlands are protected according to provincial and municipal guidelines, which Logan Landing not only respects but builds upon," reads the statement.

Genesis says it is doing a lot to address environmental concerns, including maintaining a natural buffer of 60 metres from the river's edge and not developing within 60 metres of the avulsion channel or bank swallows' nests.

It says the Logan Landing development will be a minimum of 750 metres away from a colony of blue-heron nesting sites.

Nathaniel Schmidt
Nathaniel Schmidt

Another issue that has been raised is about the potential impacts of building on or so near to the floodplain.

And, according to the city's own flood maps, parts of Ricardo Ranch are more than 97 per cent at risk of flooding in the next 25 years.

The 2013 flood was considered a 1-in-70-year event.

City of Calgary
City of Calgary

David Barrett is a research associate in the department of biological sciences at the University of Calgary. He studies water quality and the impacts of wastewater, storm water and urbanization on river health.

Like Schmidt, he is concerned about impacts that development will have on "critical" wetlands in that area. He says the plan is poorly thought out and doesn't fully consider aquatic health.

And while he says most of home construction appears to be "wisely" out of the floodplain, developing around it will still have impacts on river health.

Andy Clark/Reuters
Andy Clark/Reuters

"When the river floods and brings in whatever is around there, whether that's materials from houses or anything like that, that's going to be a negative. But it's also, from societal point of view, it's expensive," he said.

"It's a poor, poor decision as we expect to see increased climate variability and, as a result, changes in precipitation in these flood intervals. We're going to see it more often.

The one in eight or one in 25, whatever it is — that doesn't mean that it's only going to happen once in 25 years. It means that every year there's a one-in-25 chance that it'll happen."

Nathaniel Schmidt
Nathaniel Schmidt

Spencer says it's always a risk when building on or near a floodplain.

"But certainly given what has happened, there's an awful lot of scrutiny around that," he said.

"Any development that has happened recently on a floodplain within the boundaries of Calgary, engineering standards mean they have to do mitigation to make sure that you're not needlessly putting new homes in harm's way."

He says the "bare minimum" is that it's outside of that 100-year event before a developer is allowed to put up a house.

Genesis says Logan Landing will be built 60 metres outside the boundaries in the city's flood maps.

Calgarians can give their feedback on the project online.

It will be discussed by council later this fall, and the earliest any development would begin is next spring.