On Thursday, we published a piece on the plight of local businesses on Alberta Avenue who have been severely impacted by sewer work being done near the corner of 118th Avenue and 88th Street. The work has forced them to lose nearby parking spaces and barriers now block their businesses from the street itself. One storefront, City Liquidations, has already closed for good. Meanwhile, businesses such as Koultures Afro-Continental Restaurant and Aminata’s Hair Braiding and Beauty Supply have said they are in danger of closing within a couple of months because of the severe drop-off in their business.
Today, EPCOR responded in writing to a series of questions posed by Edify about the project. They have been edited for clarity.
What is the project?
The Kinnaird Sewer Separation Project on 118 Avenue and 88 Street will help protect businesses and homes in the area from localized flooding, which has been a significant issue in the past. This project will separate the existing combined drainage system and create a new storm sewer tunnel. The project began in 2020 and is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year… This new storm tunnel is being constructed deep underground through a methodology known as micro-tunneling. While most of the work occurs underground, the soil expelled by the machine comes to the surface to be managed and then hauled offsite. This work requires significant space at the surface for to dig a 7.5-metre diameter shaft to launch the tunnelling machine along with space for the soil separation equipment and heavy equipment such as backhoes and tandem trucks to haul the material off-site.
What kinds of consultation/engagement was done with area businesses?
Ensuring businesses and residents in the area have a thorough understanding and appreciation of the impact of this essential project is important to us. We have informed the local business and residential communities prior to starting the work in July 2020 and at multiple stages throughout construction since then. In January 2022 we began to reach out — both in-person and virtually — to the Business Improvement Association and local businesses about the impacts of this stage of the construction and have held subsequent meetings since then to look at measures that can be taken to mitigate the impact on their operations. EPCOR plans to continue the touch points with the impacted residents and businesses as the project continues.
Note: Jay Ball, executive director of the Alberta Avenue Business Association, says that his organization was not contacted before work began. The business owners I spoke to yesterday said that they never received advance notice of the work that was going to be done in front of their storefronts.
Some businesses are concerned about access to parking/store entrances/access in the area due to the construction. What is being done to address these concerns?
We recognize that this critical infrastructure project is impacting the neighbourhood and nearby businesses. To help reduce the impacts to businesses, EPCOR installed signage on the construction fences to indicate that area businesses are still open and provided sandwich boards to businesses to use at their discretion. We also understand the parking challenges, given the presence of heavy equipment on site. We are working to identify potential alternative parking options in the area and will continue to consult with businesses for their feedback on how we can help locate alternative parking for their customers. We will also continue to work with the City to make traffic and parking modifications throughout each phase of this project. We will continue to work diligently and collaboratively with the BIA and the impacted businesses to find ways to support customer access to the area and manage the impacts while completing the work. A request was made by the Alberta Avenue BIA to reduce construction activities over the lunch hour. Earlier this week, EPCOR communicated to the BIA that the current construction activities related to the crane would decline over the next few weeks, which should reduce the noise level associated with the construction work, and today the drill rig was removed from site because its work was completed. During the next phase of work, noise dampening barriers will be installed on equipment, and soil hauling activity by trucks will be halted from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m. daily to minimize the noise and local activity.
Is there a claims/compensation process that businesses can go through to request compensation if they are concerned the project has impacted their business?
EPCOR is a regulated utility which is funded by ratepayers, and we are required to prudently manage the resources they provide, in accordance with rules set by regulators. The City of Edmonton’s EPCOR Drainage Services Bylaw 18100 (Section 14) does not allow claims for loss of revenue due to road closures caused by sewer repairs unless it has been determined that EPCOR was negligent in its operation and maintenance of the system. Even in these cases, compensation is limited to direct property loss and does not include loss of revenue. There is an independent process through which claims based on negligence are managed. Individuals may file a claim and claims are processed by an independent professional claims adjuster, who reviews and investigates them on an individual basis.
As stated in yesterday’s article, the Alberta Avenue Business Association has invited Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Ward Métis Councillor Ashley Salvador to the area to meet the affected business-owners. There is an understanding that the utility needs to operate within the bylaws made by council; the question that will be raised — does the City need to look at its bylaws? Ball has suggested that contractors should put a percentage of their budget aside to compensate businesses affected by their work .