Responsibility for managing the Northeast Swale has been delegated to the Meewasin Valley Authority, which has a mandate in law as a conservation agency. That’s a promising start! But Meewasin relies on funding from the Province of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon, so its autonomy is often compromised. This bind weakens its ability to protect the Swales.
The body with the authority to oversee the development in the northeast sector as a whole is the City of Saskatoon. Although city council has pledged to protect the Swale, the City is currently preparing for major expansion in this sector. At the same time, the Province is planning to bisect the area with a high-speed highway. To achieve real benefits for the Swale, we need real commitment from the City and the Province.
At present, the Swale is crossed by four lanes of traffic on Central Avenue and McOrmond Drive. In the near future, six more lanes are slated to be added, two as an upgrade to Lowe Road and four, at highway speed, for the Saskatoon Freeway.
Ten lanes of traffic crossing the Swale are more than we need for an efficient transportation system and more than the Swale can bear.
Lowe Road has been blocked to traffic as a temporary measure. This closure should become permanent. Closing Lowe Road would create a zone of peace and quiet in the heart of the Swale.
Similarly, the City should withdraw its support for the planned provincial highway across the Swale, pending a comprehensive environmental and fiscal review of this mega-project.
Where roads do cross the Swale, speeds must be restricted to reduce disturbance and risk. When Central Avenue and the McOrmond freeway were opened in the fall of 2018, speed limits were reduced where the roads crossed the Swale, with exactly this goal in mind. But in May of 2020, City Council reversed this wise decision and raised speeds to 60 kph throughout. This decision should be revisited. Meanwhile, the City must create a plan for ensuring that speed limits are observed, through traffic-calming measures and enforcement.
Dark Sky Compliance
Just talking about dark sky compliance by itself is not good enough for the protection of natural areas and wildlife habitat since this term has no legal definition with the City or the Province. Neither actually have dark-sky polices in spite of this term appearing in their statements. Although roadways have had some design considerations to minimize light trespass into the Swales, all other light coming into the Swales comes from city-developed lands or the future province-owned Freeway right-of-way that currently do not have any lighting restrictions. For dark sky compliance to work in any fashion, the city must pass a bylaw that requires commercial, industrial and residential lighting adjacent to the Swale to meet at least minimal dark sky standards. Similarly, the Province, SaskPower and SaskHighways needs to develop dark-sky standards for natural (dark) areas, based within the Saskatchewan Environmental Code (SEC). A dark sky compliance standard also needs to prohibit other disruptive lighting sources, such as lit signage and LED billboards from being within eyesight of natural areas. Such standards exist elsewhere, but have not been adopted here.
Reduce Lighting on the Roads
When streetlights were installed on the North Commuter Parkway and roadways adjacent to the Swales, shielded lighting of a slightly yellow colour was used. Although this was acceptable, it was minimal design and could have been better, with lower poles, better shielding and redder light for the Swale crossings so that less light bleeds into the sensitive areas. But streetlights are not the only lighting threats. Over-bright crosswalk signs were installed, and there is no plan to exclude glaring LED billboards and future commercial signage and lighting abutting the roadways. The Saskatoon Freeway will have even more and brighter lights with poorly shielded high poles typically used with traffic speeds of 100-km per hour and for interchanges. This will be very disruptive to wildlife, even with animal crossings.
When the new neighbourhoods in University Heights 3 are designed, the Conservation Zone should be enlarged to include the nearby Small Swale and the sharp-tailed grouse lek adjacent to the Northeast Swale. In addition, residential development should be set well back from the Conservation Zone to provide a wide buffer and give the Swale room to breath.
The City should manage stormwater from the neighbourhoods around the Swale so that pesticides and other pollutants do not flow into the natural wetlands.
The City should impose a special levy on lots in University Heights 3 to raise money for the implementation of the conservation plan for the Northeast Swale. This would follow a precedent that was set in the Aspen Ridge subdivision.
Adequate, Stable Funding
The provincial government has significantly reduced funding to Meewasin in recent years and periodically signals an intention to withdraw its funding completely. The Province and the City must both ensure that Meewasin receives stable funding, with no strings attached, so that it can fulfill its important, legislated mandate.
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The Northeast Swale Watchers is a group of concerned citizens from a variety of backgrounds who have been monitoring development and advocating for the protection of the Swales since 2011. In our advocacy, members contribute their knowledge and time to make presentations, attend meetings, conduct citizen science, and engage with the public.
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