The release of a study examining the environmental effects of Brewster’s controversial proposal to build a multi-million dollar glass-floored observation deck along the Icefields Parkway is on hold.
Brewster officials say they are adjusting some aspects of the project design to better meet the needs and interests of the public and address some Parks Canada issues.
They say they want to ensure all potential effects of the project are examined as thoroughly as possible, noting the assessment should be out for review in mid-May.
“We’ve had some good suggestions, so we’re taking those into account,” said Michael Hannan, president of Brewster Travel Canada.
“We need to do some more work and collect some additional information and capture that in the environmental assessment.”
The proposed attraction, billed as the ‘Glacier Discovery Walk’, is at the Tangle Ridge Viewpoint, about six kilometers north of the Columbia Icefields.
As proposed, it would consist of a 400-metre interpretive boardwalk and a glass-floored observation platform extending 30 metres out over the Sunwapta Valley.
The proposal has drawn strong criticism from conservationists, but praise from a national park business and user group.
Conservationists say it’s a colossal eyesore on a natural landscape that will lead to a loss of easy public access, and has little to do with glaciers and everything to do with thrill-seeking.
They also have concerns about bighorn sheep in the area.
“It’s totally out of place in a national park. It’s the Disneyfication of our national park,” said Jill Seaton, chair of the Jasper Environmental Association.
Seaton said she is also worried about the dangerous precedent Parks Canada will set if it grants a licence of occupation outside of Brewster’s current lease.
“If Parks let this tacky thing in, what else will they allow?” she said. “This is in a world heritage site and is probably one of the most magnificent highways in the world. It’s unconscionable to have something so tacky.”
Monica Andreeff, executive director of the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE), said the Glacier Discovery Walk would provide a unique visitor experience and educational opportunity.
She said AMPPE maintains very strong values shared by many visitors and residents – sustainable tourism, ecological integrity, education and a quality visitor experience.
“Brewster Travel Canada’s proposal for a new attraction matches our key core values on several fronts,” she said.
Andreeff said AMPPE also believes the environmental impacts will be minimal, particularly given the project is being built on a previously disturbed site within the highway right-of-way.
“It’s not pristine wilderness,” she said.
If Brewster gets its approvals, it wants to start construction this year and have the tourist attraction open by the July long weekend in 2012.
Hannan said he believes the Glacier Discovery Walk will offer an “outstanding experience for the mass visitors that come to the park”.
“There’s 1.6 million people travelling up and down the Icefields Parkway each year, and most are rubbernecking looking at the scenery, but not really getting an interpretive experience,” he said.
“We want to give them a fun experience and interpretative and education experience in the front country.”