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Silvertip gondola proposals continues public engagement phase

The ongoing public engagement phase for the proposed gondola at Silvertip Resort made its first appearance at Canmore council. But with much of the decision in the hands of provincial organizations, residents can expect to see a lengthy process before they return to municipal council.

BOW VALLEY – The ongoing public engagement phase for the proposed gondola at Silvertip Resort made its first appearances at Canmore and Municipal District of Bighorn councils.

But with much of the decision in the hands of provincial organizations, residents can expect to see a lengthy process before coming back to municipal councils.

Lindsay Beston, the project manager, outlined to council the long process ahead prior to anything needing approval at the local level.

“We wanted to get in front of you early in our process as we move forward in progressing the project through the project assessment and stakeholder and Indigenous engagement,” she said.

The public can submit comments on the draft terms of reference and the environmental impact assessment (EIA) until June 13, 2022.

However, Indigenous consultation, which will likely take six to nine months to complete, is beginning as directed by the Aboriginal Consultation Office and Alberta Environment and Parks.

The EIA process is expected to take six to 12 months and when completed, will head to the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) for review of the application. If any objections are received, a hearing would take place and evidence will be reviewed. A decision would take an estimated six months.

If approved, the Mount Lady Macdonald area – which is part of the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park – would have to be designated a provincial park. Public lands would have to be amalgamated into the park, while amendments to the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan would be needed.

It is then the Town of Canmore and the MD of Bighorn councils would approve or deny development permits, while Canmore council would have to decide on amending land-use planning such as the Silvertip area structure plan.

“We’re very early on in the process. I will acknowledge the regulatory process can be convoluted to understand as we have many steps to go through,” Beston said. “There’s many moving pieces and some of the processes will be done in parallel, some need to be done before we get to the next one.”

John Third, Stone Creek Resorts Inc. vice president of marketing and sales, said optimistically it would take about two years to return to municipal councils.

He also said a tramway or cable car across the highway, which isn’t part of this initial plan, could be added if there was interest.

“That’s something that could be facilitated,” he said. “It’s not in the planning at this point. There was some discussion and this has been a work in progress prior to COVID. COVID caused us to take a major hiatus in regards to moving it forward.”

The proposed project, which would see a gondola connect from a base station in Palliser to Silvertip Village Resort and then continue to the Mount Lady Macdonald station, is a development area of about 14.9 hectares.

Third said the top of Mount Lady Macdonald and the majority of the path the gondola travels is over Bighorn land, while the three stations are within Canmore’s borders.

The project scope of the EIA will eventually come back with a focus on such things as wildlife, vegetation, land use management and a socio-economic assessment.

Silvertip committed to complete a voluntary and engage First Nations to Alberta Environment and Parks on Nov. 2, 2016, which would be reviewed by the NRCB.

“The director responsible for environmental assessment has directed that this activity is not a mandatory activity for the purposes of environmental assessment, and Stone Creek has voluntarily elected to prepare an environmental impact assessment report for the project,” according to the notice of project found on the gondola project’s website.

However, the province required Stone Creek to prepare an EIA under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act in a July 24, 2017 letter.

A project summary was previously submitted to the NRCB in May 2016.

The Silvertip area structure plan was approved by Canmore council in 2007. The area also has land that’s considered a wildlife corridor at both the lower and upper Silvertip corridors surrounding Silvertip Golf Course.

In the Bow Valley region, there are existing gondolas at Sulphur Mountain, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. In Banff, a contentious proposal for a gondola by Liricon Capital as part of the train station redevelopment.

A project description for the Silvertip gondola was previously submitted on Jan. 27, 2021, but rejected by Alberta Environment and Parks.

The AEP rejection letter noted an NRCB decision on “a positive public interest” would be needed as well as an environmental impact assessment, and only then would the province weigh in.

“The public interest review by the NRCB could assist in informing the Crown’s decisions to amend the park boundary and SSRP, and proceeding in this manner reduces duplication and unnecessary delay,” the July 12, 2021, letter from the province wrote.