BANFF – Parks Canada says Liricon Capitals’s gondola proposal from the Banff townsite to the summit of Mount Norquay won’t fly.
The federal agency has turned down the proposal by Liricon, the personal financial holding company of Jan and Adam Waterous, citing conflicts with development polices. But it looks like the Waterous’ have a Plan B to pursue to get the aerial gondola off the ground.
Parks Canada officials say there will be no further consideration of the proposed gondola, proposed Grizzly Pavilion and boardwalks, which would be located on lands outside the Mount Norquay leasehold.
“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,” said Parks Canada in a statement.
“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,” it added.
“Parks Canada is not willing to alter its policies to accommodate this proposal.”
Jan Waterous said Parks Canada has provided feedback on specific issues that prevent approval of this initial proposal, but said she is not in a position to say what that feedback was at this time.
“While we are obviously disappointed with Parks’ comments concerning our initial proposal, we also understand that we are engaged in a process that will likely take many iterations before agreement can be reached,” she said in an emailed statement.
“As such, we will be resubmitting a different proposal for Parks’ consideration in the near term that addresses their specific concerns.”
Liricon, which owns Mount Norquay ski hill and holds leases from Canadian Pacific Railway for the train station and surrounding lands on both sides of the tracks, has a vision for a car-free Banff.
Part of that included a proposal to develop a year-round, high-alpine tourist destination through the construction of a four-station gondola from the Banff train station to the summit of Mount Norquay.
One of the proposed mitigations for the gondola included reducing traffic, or decommissioning the road to Norquay.
Waterous said Parks Canada’s feedback has been very constructive, which allows the company to reformulate plans to address the agency’s concerns.
“Not surprisingly, as with any project of this scope, the first submission inevitably requires further revisions and polishing,” she said.
Conservationists, including the local Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN), welcomed the news that Parks Canada has said no to further development outside of the ski hill’s lease area.
Reg Bunyan, BVN vice-president, said the decision shows a strong commitment to sound ecological decision-making and a welcome reaffirmation of the agency’s commitment to limiting development in the national park.
“With this decision made, our hope is that Parks Canada will move quickly to limit the impact of vehicular traffic on the wildlife corridor by implementing the recommended seasonal dusk to dawn vehicular restriction,” he said.
BVN and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) have been calling on Parks Canada to install a gate to restrict vehicles on the Mount Norquay ski hill access road to protect a critical wildlife corridor rather than considering a gondola.
The groups argued seasonal and dawn and dusk travel restrictions similar to the Bow Valley Parkway seasonal night-time closure are an existing policy solutions to deal with increasing traffic on the road, which cuts through an important travel corridor for grizzly bears, wolves and cougars.
Although from an ecological and policy perspective BVN strongly disagreed with Liricon Capital’s proposal for a gondola and the associated off-lease development, Bunyan said the proposal did identify a number of creative ideas for managing traffic issues within the Town of Banff.
“With the offsite development issue settled, we hope with that this decision and some of Liricon’s ideas will be the catalyst for a wider ranging community discussion about town traffic management and living within our ecological boundaries,” he said.
In the meantime, Waterous said Liricon will continue to advance its work on the area redevelopment plan for the train station lands and efforts to return passenger rail between the Calgary airport and Banff National Park.
“We remain confident that the aerial transit project, along with the other green transit initiatives that we have proposed, will ultimately enhance the ecological integrity of the important Cascade Wildlife Corridor that intersects the Norquay road while also improving the visitor experience,” she said.
The Town of Banff did not provide a statement on what Parks Canada’s decision means for the area redevelopment plan for the train station, which included the base for the gondola, at publication time.