(Part One in Edmonton Sun’s four-part Pothills Conspiracy story)
After months of hard-core investigative journalism by the Edmonton Sun, a direct connection appears to link pothole repairs to the hotly debated arena deal to finance and build a downtown home for the Edmonton Oilers and the Katz Group of Companies.
As police wrap up their investigation into the Pothills Conspiracy, hundreds of arrests are expected in what is believed to be a pseudo-kickback scheme master-minded by Mayor Stephen Mandel and Daryl Katz, which involved the entire management staff at Edmonton Public Works.
It is not, however, a kickback in the usual understanding of the term. Instead of lining the personal pockets of those involved, these monies were allegedly transferred to a numbered Swiss bank account. These funds were then to be used for the part of the new arena funding proposal that remains outstanding – the $100 million dollar tally that will not be covered by Katz, the City of Edmonton, or the proposed ticket tax. At the time the deal was struck and the Edmonton Sun questioned the mayor about the $100 million shortfall, he responded: “The rest of the money? Don’t worry, we’ll find the rest of the money!”
It’s believed the Pothills Conspiracy operated in the following manner. It began in the wake of the worst pothole season in Capital Region history. In late March, Public Works branch purchased seven of the the city’s major brake and suspension repair shops and renamed each of them River City Suspension and Alignment SuperCentre.
Simultaneously, Public Works implemented a new process for repairing potholes. Essentially, potholes were filled with 25% more asphalt than was necessary, creating suspension-jarring mini bumps that drivers were soon cursing, dubbing them “pothills”.
Public Works officials defended the new process. They boasted cost-effectiveness and sustainability since the overfilled repairs would last longer that regular repairs. One director, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested the new “pothills” were trail-blazing works of asphalt art.
“Anyone can fill a pothole to road surface height,” he stated. “Seriously. Even Winnipeg’s crews can do that and they don’t even know how to make curbs there yet! But now, to create an RSP – a Raised Surface Pothole? That, my friend, takes some skill and gonads.”
The Mayor’s Office also defended the new repairs citing the end results as a safety measure that promoted driver awareness and alertness.
Throughout April, May and June, more than 210,000 potholes were filled – all of them RSPs. As the numbers rose, business boomed at the four River City Suspension and Alignment SuperCentres and cash flowed from the supercentres to City of Edmonton Finance to the Swiss accounts.
(Coming in Part Two of The Pothills Conspiracy: Peter Pocklington’s take on the Pitfalls of pothills)