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Banff mayor takes in climate change workshop at FCM

“We should all know that climate change is an imminent threat to this park and our home and our lives as we know it, as well as our livelihoods, and there’s absolutely an economic cost that’s going to come with the very real effects of climate change.”
CFM_Bio Photo
Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno.

BANFF – From floods to wildfires, local municipal leaders are on the front lines of new weather extremes associated with climate change.

With Banff facing its share of threats in the past decade, Mayor Corrie DiManno took in a climate change workshop at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) annual conference in Regina, Sask., June 2-5.

“It’s such a privilege to live in a national park and I strongly believe that with that privilege comes responsibility to do our part to protect and preserve this place,” she said.

“We should all know that climate change is an imminent threat to this park and our home and our lives as we know it, as well as our livelihoods, and there's absolutely an economic cost that’s going to come with the very real effects of climate change.”

The climate change session focused on local tactics that municipal leaders are using to make their communities more resilient to extreme weather.

It aimed to shed light on best practices and key initiatives from across the country to help municipalities and their residents face the impacts of climate change, including protection of infrastructure.

The City of Prince George, B.C., gave a presentation about wildfire, while the municipalities of Saskatoon, Sask., Colchester, Nova Scotia and Bruderheim, Alta., spoke about the impacts of floods.

“I was curious to learn about what other municipalities are doing across the country and I think the big message was about adapting and doing your best to mitigate what’s to come,” said Mayor DiManno.

“It’s not easy to plan or respond to weather-related disasters but we do need to begin adapting.”

Climate change results in long-term changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as increased frequency and severity of weather events such as droughts, floods, forest fires, and severe storms.

Locally, climate change is causing glaciers to melt at an alarming rate, including in the mountain national parks where the Peyto, Yoho and Saskatchewan glaciers melted last year at a rate never seen before.

Last summer, Banff obliterated temperature records on six consecutive days, recording its hottest day in recorded history on June 29, 2021, as the mercury soared to 37.8 Celsius.

Mayor DiManno said a big message during the FCM sessions centred on how communication with community and nature-based solutions can help build climate change resiliency.

She said for Banff’s part that could include things such as plans for a revamped Bow Avenue, given council has allocated $200,000 in design work in 2023-24 to refine one of three high level concepts under consideration for redevelopment of that riverfront road.

With greenhouse gases driving climate change, she said it’s more important than ever to get people out of personal vehicles and onto transit.

“I am re-energized and feeling re-inspired to try and move along our environmental master plan as well as our energy transition roadmap,” said the mayor.

While the Banff townsite escaped relatively unscathed during the catastrophic 2013 floods compared to neighbouring Canmore, several hundred residents at Rocky Mountain Housing Co-operative on Birch Avenue were evacuated.

Areas near the Bow River, including Central Park, Bow Avenue, the Banff recreation grounds and the Banff Trail Riders horse stables were flooded and parts of the Banff Springs golf course were also under water.

In addition, the Banff townsite has been on alert in recent years during the wildfire season, including during the 2017 lightning-sparked Verdant Creek wildfire that led to the evacuation of Sunshine Village and Kootenay Park Lodge and forced closure of many areas of Banff and Kootenay national parks.

“I think we’ve been really lucky here the past few summers, but that summer you’d look up and the sky was red,” said Mayor DiManno.

“It really put a lot of fear into people’s hearts about what’s about to happen in the community.”

The Town of Banff has made much progress when it comes to wildfire preparation, according to Mayor DiManno, who pointed to FireSmart, a combustible roof replacement program and a program encouraging residents to reduce wildfire hazards by replacing conifer trees with deciduous trees.

She said the municipality has come a long way in terms of an emergency alert system and having emergency preparedness as part of council’s strategic planning.

“I think there’s a real tangible effort,” she said.