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Parks Canada says no to gondola proposed from Banff townsite to Mount Norquay

Smoke haze from forest fires burning in Alberta and British Columbia hangs over Banff, Alta., in Banff National Park, Friday, July 21, 2017. Parks Canada has rejected a proposed gondola to take skiers or hikers from the Banff townsite to the summit at the Mount Norquay ski resort.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
January 21, 2020 - 8:00 PM

BANFF, Alta. - Parks Canada has rejected a proposed gondola to take skiers and hikers from the Banff townsite to the summit at the Mount Norquay ski resort.

The federal agency was considering a proposal by Liricon Capital, which owns the resort, to redevelop leased lands inside the Alberta mountain town and at the ski area in Banff National Park.

Officials with Parks Canada said they reviewed a feasibility study and other materials related to the proposal submitted in May 2018.

"There will not be further consideration of the proposed gondola, nor the proposed Grizzly Pavilion and boardwalks, which would be located on lands outside the Mount Norquay leasehold," the agency said in a written statement to The Canadian Press.

"These components of the feasibility study do not conform with the agency's policies on limits to development and ski area management in Banff National Park."

The proposal by Liricon, which was supported by the Town of Banff, would have potentially closed the only access road to the ski hill and returned that land to Parks Canada. Visitors would have parked in new lots at Banff's train station and ridden the gondola over the Trans-Canada Highway to the resort.

Parks Canada said that would have negatively affected public use of the Mount Norquay access road.

Jan Waterous, a partner at Liricon Capital, said the company is disappointed but will try again.

"We will be resubmitting a different proposal for ... consideration in the near term that addresses their concerns," she said in an email.

Waterous said the company remains confident that the project, along with some transit proposals, could be beneficial for the environment.

"Luckily, the science is on our side."

An environmental study done for Liricon and posted online suggested the gondola was not likely to harm grizzly bears, wolves and cougars. It suggested further study was needed on bighorn sheep.

In its statement, Parks Canada said Banff National Park's development plan and Parks Canada ski area management guidelines were put together with extensive public input and based on the best-available science and research.

"It is Parks Canada's position that its policies on limits to development are fundamental to protecting the ecological integrity of Banff National Park and to ensure that this treasured place is preserved now and for future generations.

"Parks Canada is not willing to alter its policies to accommodate this proposal."

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said the town respects Parks Canada's decision.

"We know how important it is to work within the limits of development in Banff National Park," she said in a statement.

Environmental groups welcomed the decision to reject the gondola, as well as the pavilion and boardwalks.

"We are pleased that Parks Canada ... is prioritizing nature and ecological integrity in the region," said Katie Morrison, director of conservation for the southern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Reg Bunyan, who's with the Bow Valley Naturalists, said the group hopes the parks agency also moves to limit the impact of traffic on the road by bringing in a dusk-to-dawn restriction.

The for-profit proposal wouldn't have done enough to improve the wildlife corridors around the town of Banff, said Morrison.

"The extent of development in the proposal would have further compromised critical habitats and connectivity," she said.

Liricon also wants to develop land to allow passenger rail service to Banff from Calgary.

In the statement, Parks Canada said the potential for a train connection would be subject to a separate review.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2020

— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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