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Mount Norquay's gondola proposal isn't flying with Parks Canada

“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. As such, we will be resubmitting a different proposal for Parks’ consideration in the near term that addresses their specific concerns," said Liricon Capital's Jan Waterous
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Jan Waterous guides visitors through Liricon Captial's plans for revitalization of the Banff Train Station and mass transit to and from Banff. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Parks Canada says Liricon Capitals’s proposal for a gondola 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 policies on development limits, but it looks like the Waterous’ have a Plan B to get the aerial gondola off the ground.

Parks Canada would not grant an interview request, but 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 to the Outlook. “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 and return of passenger rail between Banff and Calgary.

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.

“The proposal would have significant adverse impacts on public use of the ski area access road,” according to Parks Canada’s statement.

Parks Canada’s statement indicated that components of Liricon’s feasibility study that fall within the ski area lease boundary and are consistent with the management plan, Parks Canada ski area management guidelines and the Mount Norquay site guidelines and lease “may be considered through the submission of a new or an amended long-range plan” for the ski area.

It did not say what those components were.

“Any new long range plan, or any amendment to the existing long-range plan, would be subject to environmental review and engagement with the public and Indigenous peoples,” according to the statement.

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 is 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 this decision in conjunction with 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.

The Town of Banff is involved in an area redevelopment plan process for the railway lands, which initially included a gondola, along with intercept parking and a railway heritage interpretive site.

“We haven’t received any changes from the applicant related to this decision,” said Darren Enns, the Town of Banff’s planning and development director.

“If there are changes to the plan, we would anticipate that the scope of the area redevelopment plan would need to be updated.”

Waterous said Liricon plans to 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.

She 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.

The 2010 management plan for Banff National Park and approved site guidelines for Mount Norquay allowed a feasibility study for a gondola between the Banff townsite and the Mount Norquay ski area.

Liricon submitted a feasibility study to Parks Canada in 2018, with a proposal that included redevelopment of lands inside the Banff townsite, redevelopment of the ski area and development of other national park lands as well as a passenger rail from Calgary to Banff.