The Pulse: April 13, 2022

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  • -4°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 4. Wind chill minus 20 in the morning and minus 8 in the afternoon. UV index 3 or moderate. (forecast)
  • 1-5: The Oilers (42-26-6) lost to the Wild (45-21-6) in Minnesota. (details)

Steve Siciliano holds a thin tube of metal in the air, with a projector screen in the background

'Saving the soils will save the world': EMS secures $250K investment

By Emily Rendell-Watson

Environmental Material Science Inc.'s soil remediation technology is gaining traction across the Prairies, as it prepares to continue fundraising after securing at least $250,000 at Startup TNT's Cleantech Investment Summit at the beginning of April.

"It was a total shocker," CEO and president Steve Siciliano said of the win. He travelled to Calgary to pitch his company's technology, which uses sensors to track and monitor pollutants in soil. It also stimulates naturally occurring organisms to clean up pollutants like hydrocarbons, which come from diesel, gasoline, or other spills.

EMS plans to use the funds raised at the summit to hire additional business developers to get in front of more customers, as well as to bring someone on to manage the company's gigantic soil flux database. "We have over 12 million estimates of carbon moving in and out of the soil and soil health, so our database system, which was good for the first three years, is creaking under the load," he said.

EMS has experienced substantial growth so far in 2022 — it initially expected to work on 16 sites this year but already has more than 31 in the works. Customers work in a variety of different industries, from distribution of products to commercial real estate, as well as companies looking to improve their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. That also includes anyone who runs a "downstream location," such as gas stations or pipeline operators, Siciliano explained.

Traditional techniques to address any leaks that may occur near those types of sites involve digging up the soil that's been polluted and shipping it away to a landfarm or a landfill. But that is costly, as it destroys the infrastructure (an average gas station costs $20 million to build, said Siciliano).

Instead, EMS's technology provides an alternative clean solution that uses 99.9% fewer greenhouse gases than an excavation, as well as 95% less water. And perhaps most importantly, it aims to make soil healthy instead of getting rid of it.

"Most people don't understand how precious our soil is. It takes about 100 years to make a centimetre of topsoil ... and so every time you dispose of a cubic metre of soil, you're getting rid of about 100 million years of work, of capital, of what we're living off of," Siciliano said. "We're just making the soil happy again. As that ecosystem starts to get happier, it starts to ... heal itself."

An accidental side effect of EMS's technology is that it can also detect carbon sequestration. "If we want to increase the amount of carbon in our soils and decrease the amount of carbon entering our atmosphere, what we want to do is decrease CO2 emissions and increase methane consumption. And our sensors can determine that," he said. "So we're getting interest from ... basically any company that shares our worldview that saving the soils will save the world."

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By Kevin Holowack

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton on Tuesday promoting his government's budget. He shook hands with entrepreneurs at Startup Edmonton and emphasized a new small business tax policy that enables businesses to continue benefitting from the lower rate even as they grow and scale up. Trudeau also met with local Afghan and Ukrainian communities and visited a lab to tout his budget's investments in green technology, CBC reports.
  • While in town, Trudeau expressed concerns over Alberta's opioid crisis and said he would welcome Edmonton's application to decriminalize possession. The prime minister said he spoke with Mayor Amarjeet Sohi about the opioid crisis. "I can tell you that he and all of us are extremely worried about what Albertans are going through on the opioid epidemic."
  • Councillors Andrew Knack and Keren Tang are each setting aside $25,000 of their $177,000 discretionary budget — usually used for assistants, furniture, and business lunches — for a participatory budgeting project that will award micro-grants between $500 and $2,000 to Ward Karhiio and Ward Nakota Isga residents. "This is a trial year, and I know it's not a lot of money. But I also have seen communities do amazing things with limited resources," Tang told CTV News.
  • Flair Airlines celebrated its new non-stop flight between Edmonton and Nashville even as its status as a domestic airline is under review by the Canadian Transportation Agency over concerns about its ownership. Flair's license could be suspended as early as May 3.
  • Brad Bartko, a local disability advocate and consultant, is calling for more accessible seating at venues. His action comes after noticing accessible seats for Hamilton at the Jubilee Auditorium cost $150 compared to $84 for seats not designated as such. "It comes down to equal opportunity for everybody to be able to enjoy the show," he told CBC News.
  • On July 3, Edmonton will host nearly 200 world-class athletes on their way to the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. The Warm-Up to Worlds Invitational is happening at Foote Field, a more intimate space than Commonwealth Stadium which hosted the world championships in 2001.
  • CTV News assignment editor and data enthusiast Kyra Markov shared a series of graphs to make Alberta's COVID-19 data easier to understand. "I am all about making data more digestible visually," she tweeted.
  • The Conservative Party of Canada's first official English language leadership debate is scheduled for May 11 at 6pm in Edmonton. CBC News reports that a format for the debates has not yet been set.
Newspaper clippings with the headline "River Valley Use Disputed"

A moment in history: April 13, 1963

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1963, a showdown was brewing within the city government over the fate of the river valley.

It's impossible to overstate the influence cars had on civic planning during the 1960s. Edmonton was no exception to this — the city already had a strong automotive culture. To accommodate the rising number of cars, the city's engineering department wanted to see freeways built in the city's river valley. The idea, not surprisingly, was "solidly opposed" by Edmonton's parks department, which instead sought to drastically lower speed limits in the valley, according to the Edmonton Journal.

The article was a prelude to December when the city released the infamous Metropolitan Edmonton Transportation Study (METS). The plan called for a colossal change to the city's transportation system by building half a dozen freeways. METS called for an eight-kilometre freeway loop encircling downtown, with several connector freeways that would thread out to other parts of the city.

It was estimated that the freeways would destroy about 11% of the river valley and make hundreds of acres more of it inaccessible. The Jasper Freeway alone would have eaten up a lot of the valley west of downtown, cutting through Victoria Park, the golf course, and Government House Park before slithering its way up McKinnon Ravine.

McKinnon Ravine was the site of some of the fiercest opposition to METS. When initial survey work and grading began in the ravine in 1965, west-end residents banded together, organized in part by painter-turned-activist Margaret Chappelle. This wasn't just a battle fought in letters to the editor and public meetings; the McKinnon work spurred protests and reports of BB guns being fired at bulldozers. At some point, effigies of two city commissioners were hung from the 142nd Street Bridge with a sign that dubbed them "Vandals of the Year."

Eventually, work halted and the city scrapped METS. A few years later, city council approved the LRT system's construction, signalling a change in its transportation priorities. Only one part of the sprawling METS plan was actually completed: the James McDonald Bridge, which was meant to connect downtown to a freeway south of the river.

In 2022, the city's transportation plan looks much different from METS. There is a greater emphasis on public transit and active transportation like walking and biking and less on wide, land-hungry freeways. Still, cars are the dominant form of transportation in the city, and the need to efficiently plan for them is constant. Freeways remain part of that plan, such as current work to convert the Yellowhead Highway into a freeway within the city limits.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.