Chestermere residents are asking to collaborate with the city in keeping the Rainbow Falls canal open for skating.
Chestermerian of 17 years, Kevin Deutsch, is among residents who have maintained the skating rink on the Rainbow Falls canal by cleaning it, flooding it, and taking ice thickness measurements.
“The major concerns for storm ponds come from flowing water underneath the ice, but with the canal, there are four inlets into the north canal and 11 into the south canal,” Deutsch said.
“The canal is absolutely safer than a storm pond because there’s no flow, the water that’s frozen is the water that was in there at the end of summer. The storm ponds have flow continually coming into it. Short of size, it’s exactly what we know of the lake today,” he said.
Adding, “We don’t have an issue with the storm ponds, we get the risk, it’s a much higher risk at the end of the day than it is on the canal.”
The most significant difference between the storm ponds and canal is that the inlets are at water level or above, where the inlets in the storm ponds are below the surface.
Before flooding the canal to make the rink, Deutsch reached out to the city to determine what the designated storm ponds were.
“The storm ponds are clearly signed, however on the canal section the only signage is thin ice, we’ve done our due diligence by checking ice thickness, making sure the ice was good quality, and clean to skate on,” Deutsch said.
“All the ice thickness measurements we’ve taken are in line with the thickness they are seeing on the lake,” he said.
Deutsch and other residents have sent Chestermere City Council a significant amount of feedback on using the canal recreationally.
“We’re asking council to work with us to present the information they didn’t hear to make their decision. We want to present what we feel is missing, clarify, and determine how we can move forward in a collaborative manner,” Deutsch said.
“People are frustrated by the overreach of power. I don’t think there would have been the level of frustration if there was a clear map like there is now, showing storm ponds,” he added. “When the signage and a clear bylaw is not in place, and we go ahead and put the effort in, do our due diligence, are safe about it, and then they throw sand on it. That took people over the edge.”
Going forward, Deutsch is looking to work with the city to ensure residents can use the canals safely.
“The ultimate goal is finding a win-win. We know that we can make this safe, we know we can have a good line of sight if there’s any water coming into the canal, we know the water is very similar as to what you see at the end of summer in the lake,” Deutsch said.
The rinks on the canal offer an alternative to the 13 rinks around the community.
“Although we have 13 rinks in town, the overall capacity combined is 244 people, that’s a small number based on our population size and our demographics. A lot of people love to skate, and a lot of people love to play hockey,” Deutsch said.
Between the north and south canal, Deutsch expects roughly 15 rinks could be maintained for community use.
“Rather than painting everything with the same brush, it’s understanding the facts and let’s work with the residents, we want to have further conversations and make this work,” Deutsch said.
“I’m not going to put my own child at risk, let alone anybody else. We have a safety rescue line at the back gate, should something ever go wrong, so people can pop the rope off of the fence and toss it to whoever is struggling. It’s those sorts of things that we’re aware of,” he said.
Adding, “We can safely manage this, and work with the city. There are enough residents here to do that, and who are willing to do that. If we can effectively use these canals, we can triple the capacity available in Chestermere at zero cost to the taxpayers.”
For Deutsch, making and maintaining the rink has created a sense of community in his neighbourhood.
“This is the first year I’ve made the rink, and I’ve made so many new friends, it feels like a community with what’s happening on the canal, and that’s what we’re after at the end of the day,” Deutsch said.
Adding, “I’m confident that we can make this work, and make it work safely.”
After Chestermere City Council passed
amendments to the Storm Drainage Bylaw, residents were advised to only use the designated skating rinks around the community.
“We recognize that our residents are looking for more opportunities to get outside, particularly during the pandemic, but we cannot jeopardize the lives of our citizens by allowing recreation on storm ponds,” said Mayor Marshall Chalmers.
“We understand that some residents have gone to considerable lengths to create rinks on storm ponds, and we recognize that this may be frustrating, but the science is clear that this is not a safe space to put these rinks and never has been,” said the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Bernie Morton.
Adding, “We don’t want any member of our community to have to bear the impact of having been part of a tragic accident on a storm pond, nor the potential liabilities that come with an incident like that. Instead, we invite residents who are eager to play hockey or skate to join us in adopting an on-land rink in their own community instead.”
The Communications Advisor of Alberta Environment and Parks, Jason Penner said he understands residents want to be outside, however the canals are not an appropriate place for skating.
“The canal is not open to public access for any reason due to the safety risks both in the canal and along the sloped embankment,” Penner said.