CANMORE – The Town of Canmore, the provincial government and representatives from Three Sisters Mountain Village are working together to update the province’s undermining regulations and guidelines.
According to the municipality, the three parties have been working together for the past year-and-a-half to update one of two regulations that deal with development on land that was previously mined for coal.
“We are optimistic that there could be a final resolution around the end of this year,” said Michael Fark, general manager for infrastructure for the municipality.
The province put two regulations in place in 1997 to satisfy a requirement by the Natural Resources Conservation Board when it approved the development of Three Sisters Mountain Village.
The first regulation (Alberta Regulation 113/1997) stipulated the Town of Canmore would not be liable for any issues that arise from undermining issues on developed land, placing the liability on the province. The second regulation (Alberta Regulation 114/1997) dealt with the process of developing the land.
Alberta Regulation 113/1997 became a political issue in 2010 when a sinkhole opened up along a pathway owned by the municipality near Dygras Gate. The land had previously been owned by Three Sisters Mountain Village, but was transferred to the Town by the developer during subdivision.
Up until that point, the Town believed the regulation indemnified the municipality for any undermining event on public land and sought money from the province to pay for the damage.
While the province provided the Town with $400,000 to fix the sinkhole, the provincial government disagreed with the municipality’s interpretation of the regulation stating it was only liable for undermining issues on privately owned land.
According to Fark, the province hasn’t budged on its interpretation of the first regulation, however, all three parties are working together to clarify conditions and processes found in the second regulation, including the timing, nature, and scope of the required studies.
He said the municipality would also like to ensure the updated regulation includes provisions that address future redevelopment and the guidelines reflect the present-day understanding of undermining review methodology.
Under Alberta Regulation 114/1997, developers are required to hire an independent, third-party engineer to review the developer's undermining risk assessment. This provision is not expected to change when the regulation is updated.
“It is a layer of protection that is exceedingly rare to require, in regulation, a third-party engineer to review the work done by a qualified engineer,” said Fark.
Chris Ollenberger, managing principal of QuantumPlace Developments, which is the developer for Three Sisters Mountain Village, said discussions to update the regulation began in 2017 when the province was reviewing the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
"We're really focusing on updating the process to accommodate what we've been doing in the last 22 years and not so much on the liability aspect because that regulation is not being discussed," said Ollenberger.
While the municipality will ultimately be held liable for any undermining issues on public land, he said the public shouldn't be overly concerned.
"I recognize the incident on Dygras Gate was broadly seen as a failure and something to be concerned about, but actually it worked as intended," said Ollenberger.
"The undermining engineers knew there was a shaft in the area, but couldn't locate the exact position, so they put measures in place such that if something did happen in the future with a shaft in this particular area people would still be safe."
He said the incident also helped elevate the undermining issue in Canmore and make sure things are going to be done right when Three Sisters Mountain Village's resort centre area is built.
Timothy Gerwing, press secretary for the minister of municipal affairs, confirmed the province is working with the developer and the Town to update the regulation.
“The safety of Albertans is something we take very seriously,” wrote Gerwing.
“We are working with the developer and the town to update the regulation to create a more rigorous process with better direction around developing land that has previously been mined. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that development is done in a way that is as safe as possible.”