Parks Canada derails Banff townsite-to-Norquay gondola plan

Gondola’s proponents object to what it calls federal obstruction

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A bid to build a gondola from the Banff townsite to Mount Norquay has been stopped in its tracks by Parks Canada.

After saying it’s been turned down twice by the federal agency, which has final say in such developments, Banff Park Supt. Salman Rasheed delivered the same message in a tersely worded letter submitted to Banff town council’s public hearing Wednesday.

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“Again, our review noted that the proposed gondola from the ARP (area redevelopment plan) site to the Mount Norquay ski area has been assessed twice and found not to be feasible due to non-conformance with key park policy and legislation,” Rasheed said in the letter.

While he said changes in the plan’s third draft are appreciated, “it remains the view of Parks Canada that the draft ARP does not fully conform with applicable federal statutes and regulations.”

In 2020, Parks Canada rejected a plan for a gondola extending from the town to the top of the resort’s mountain.

It has said its construction would extend development outside the ski hill’s boundary, which would violate environment-related limits on such activity in Banff National Park.

“We believe all these policies and instruments are fundamental to protecting the park’s ecology and resources unimpaired for future generations. Parks Canada is not willing to change them to accommodate this proposal,” then-park superintendent Dave McDonough wrote in a December 2019 letter to Jan Waterous, whose company, Liricon Capital, was proposing the gondola.

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Rasheed said Parks Canada came to a similar conclusion of non-conformance in September 2022, and without meeting that criteria an environmental review can’t be conducted.

The gondola’s terminus is part of a plan to redevelop railway station lands in the Banff townsite, which, along with Mount Norquay, is owned by Liricon. The company is also proposing a passenger rail link from Calgary to the mountain resort town.

The 17.5-hectare site would be transformed into a promenade with retail shops, restaurants and residential, and an expansion of the existing parking space.

Gondola proponent says Parks Canada meddling in municipal affairs

Liricon has said a new gondola would capture some of the market from its Sulphur Mountain competitor, thus reducing vehicular traffic in the town.

In a written response to Parks Canada’s latest refusal, Waterous said she’s frustrated with the federal body’s obstruction of plans rooted in environmental sustainability.

“Parks Canada is now raising a spurious concern about a potential gondola terminus in the ARP, which is fundamental to making the multimodal transit hub economically sustainable,” she stated.

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“Addressing vehicle congestion in Banff has been a primary concern for decades of both residents and visitors. We took on these projects to reduce this congestion as a result of Parks Canada’s failure to address vehicular traffic. This failure has been detrimental to both the ecological integrity and visitor experience in the park.”

She said among six errors it made in its conclusion, Parks Canada has confused an earlier proposed gondola that would extend to Norquay’s summit with a later plan to build a smaller version that terminates at the ski resort’s base, which has not been assessed.

Parks Canada, she said, has also not assessed the gondola proposal twice. “Norquay has not made a second gondola proposal submission to date.”

Much of the opposition to the overall plan focused on development of the Banff railway lands, but the gondola component “would still contribute to the cumulative impact to the area and the amount of increased human presence that would detract from predictability and movement for wildlife,” Katie Morrison, executive director of the southern Alberta Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said in a written submission.

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Waterous said Parks Canada is meddling in municipal affairs and that the town shouldn’t accept it.

“Town council’s ability to represent the community should not be prematurely thwarted by Parks Canada administration,” she stated.

“Town council must not blindly follow whatever Parks Canada administration determines. In such a case, town council would have no power and the town would effectively be run by the unelected Parks Canada administration.”

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X (Twitter) @BillKaufmannjrn

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