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Parks Canada clarifies position on gondola with Town of Banff

Banff town council will discuss whether to remove a gondola terminus from the train station lands area redevelopment plan at its meeting on Monday, Sept. 13. Parks Canada has provided clear direction that a gondola does not conform to federal legislation and regulations.
20210720 Banff Train Station 0007
Banff train station. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Parks Canada has told the Town of Banff in no uncertain terms an aerial gondola from the townsite to Mount Norquay flies in the face of existing federal legislation and regulations.

In an Aug. 20 letter to Town Manager Kelly Gibson, Parks Canada clarified its process and responsibilities for the train station lands area redevelopment plan (ARP), given recent council discussions related to a gondola terminus in the plan.

While Parks Canada has yet to receive a copy of the draft ARP being prepared by Liricon Capital – the personal holding company of Jan and Adam Waterous – Parks officials say they understand it may include a gondola base at the train station.

They say they have reviewed two previous conceptual documents proposing a gondola between the railway lands and Mount Norquay – a 2018 feasibility study for a gondola to the summit and a 2020 feasibility study for discussion purposes to the base of the ski area.

“In both cases, concerns around conformance with key laws and policies pertaining to commercial development and growth, use of public lands, and ski area management were identified,” wrote Kendra Van Dyk, acting superintendent for Banff National Park in her Aug. 20 letter to Gibson.

“Location of gondola infrastructure on park lands necessitating a change in ski area boundaries cannot, by statute, be permitted. Additionally, and for clarity, Parks Canada has not suggested or specified to Liricon that a gondola base must be included in the ARP.”

Van Dyk said one of Parks Canada’s responsibilities is to ensure the ARP conforms with relevant federal statutes and regulations as well as the Banff National Park Management Plan and the Town of Banff Incorporation Agreement.

She said Parks Canada must also decide whether an environmental review of the ARP is required, and if so, confirm the appropriate scope and level of the review and identify any required mitigations.

She said the ARP cannot legally take effect without the approval of the minister responsible for Parks Canada.

“I provide this information to assist you in assessing any project components or stated environmental benefits of the draft ARP associated with or reliant on a gondola,” Van Dyk wrote to Gibson.

Earlier this summer, Banff town councillor Peter Poole introduced a notice of motion to remove a gondola terminus from the ARP due to Parks Canada's decision to turn down and the municipality’s legal responsibility to conform to the park management plan and incorporation agreement.

The matter is up for discussion and debate on Monday, Sept. 13.

Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno said Parks Canada’s letter has provided the Town of Banff with much greater clarity on its position.

“This will be helpful for both administration and council as we debate the scope of work on Monday,” she said.

But DiManno would not say if she would vote to scrap the gondola terminus from the ARP.

“For me, I want to have the discussion on the Monday to see where it goes. It would be hard for me to say ahead of time,” she said.

“For me personally, I always try to prescribe to keeping an open mind, hearing the debate and having that discussion on Monday.”

DiManno would not say either way whether she supported or opposed a gondola from the townsite to Mount Norquay.

“That’s a great question,” she said. “I definitely am interested in learning about all aspects of the area redevelopment plan and look forward to seeing the complete draft plan and understanding their goals and hearing the public feedback that comes with this plan.”

Coun. Brian Standish, who is running for mayor in the Oct. 18 municipal election and is a big supporter of the Waterous’ plans for redevelopment of the dilapidated train station lands into a transportation hub, said he has to review the letter sent by Parks Canada in more depth.

“Until we’re definitively told there is no gondola… then we would have to go back to the drawing board with the developer to take that out and start all over,” he said.

“Until I see something in writing to council or directed from administration – we can’t go on Peter Poole’s word – not that he might not be right. It’s just so confusing.”

Coun. Poole said Parks Canada’s letter is very clear, clarifying the gondola terminus at the train station cannot be part of the ARP.

“It is our job to uphold the law that creates a bridge or an obligation to Parks Canada, and hence, to the people of Canada,” he said.

“If we want to keep our independence as a municipality, which is what would be good for the citizens of Banff, then we have a responsibility to abide by Parks Canada direction,” he added.

“This isn’t a matter of somebody agreeing with Peter Poole, this is a matter of somebody agreeing with what they agreed to when they were sworn in as a councillor.”

Van Dyk said once there is a complete draft that is acceptable to the Town of Banff’s planning and development department, Parks Canada will review the document to make sure it conforms with the incorporation agreement, management plan and federal statutes and regulations.

“We respectfully request that this happens in advance of the ARP being available to the general public and any public committees so any potential issues or differences in understanding may be discussed and resolved,” Van Dyk said in her letter to Gibson.

If it is determined the ARP conforms to all of Parks Canada’s instruments, Van Dyk said Parks Canada would then request to review and offer input to the public engagement plan for the draft ARP.

She said Parks Canada would also confirm whether or not environmental review of the ARP is required, and if so, the scope and level that would be described through a terms of reference to be reviewed by Indigenous communities and public.

“It can be expected that the terms of reference will include a description of the respective responsibilities of the municipality, the developer and Parks Canada and specify the general structure and content to be addressed,” she wrote.

Once a draft environmental document is satisfactory to Parks Canada, it will be made available to Indigenous communities and the public for comment, which will be analyzed by Parks and may or may not lead to revisions to the environmental document.

On the basis of the final environmental documents, Parks Canada will make its determination on the significance of impacts and describe appropriate mitigations. The federal climate change and environment minister, whose portfolio includes Parks Canada, will have final say on the ARP.

“Given that the redevelopment of the railway lands is a complex, important project, I have encouraged Parks Canada staff to work closely with Town of Banff staff as early in the ARP process as possible, so that we may collaboratively address any issues and provide our best advice in a timely manner,” Van Dyk wrote to Gibson.