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Green space, not golf space

Editor: I noticed with great interest the article in your Feb. 10 edition by Tanya Foubert regarding the future of the land owned by Three Sisters which was to have been completed as the Three Sisters Golf Course.

Editor: I noticed with great interest the article in your Feb. 10 edition by Tanya Foubert regarding the future of the land owned by Three Sisters which was to have been completed as the Three Sisters Golf Course.

Apparently the idea of constructing a golf course has now been abandoned for business reasons and QuantumPlace Developments, acting for the owners, is asking Bow Valley residents for their opinions on what use should be made of the land.

Personally, I welcome this opportunity to express an opinion, but, before I do so, would like to provide a little background on my own experience as it relates to this land.

I have lived in Canmore for 46 years and was chief engineer of Canmore Mines Ltd. from 1968-74. During that period I set up a reclamation program and restored land which had been severely damaged by surface coal mining and included the creation of Quarry Lake. I organized, as part of the environmental program, what was probably the first wildlife survey carried out in the Bow Valley .

In 1979, I set up a mining/geotechnical consulting company now known as Norwest Corporation. In 1990 I was asked by the president of Three Sisters Golf Resorts, Rick Melchin, to assist his company in evaluating the 2,500 acres of land, much of it affected by coal mining, which they had purchased.

I directed this work until 2001, during which time the owners constructed Homesteads, Peaks of Grassi, the World Mark Hotel, Stewart Creek Golf Course and Three Sisters parkway.

As part of this project we developed a mining constraint zoning system and a procedure, later adopted by the Town and by the Province, to evaluate proposals put forward by developers. It is worth noting that at that time (circa 1997), two areas were identified as being severely undermined to the point where any residential or business development was precluded as being unsafe, even with mitigation.

These were Stewart Creek Golf Course, now operational, and Three Sisters Golf course, partly built and now to be abandoned. The Three Sisters Golf Course area is the most severely undermined piece of land owned by the developer.

Not only have up to three individual seams been mined, each below the other, much of this at very shallow depths, but three seams have been mined vertically by extracting coal from depths of 100 to 130 metres up to the surface until gravel was encountered.

This has been done over hundreds of metres, creating a very hazardous situation as the surface has, at some points, collapsed into water-filled voids below while, over long distances, the gravel forms an unstable bridge over the void below.

When Norwest recommended to the developer that this area should become a golf course, with appropriate mitigation, there was a second reason why residential development should not proceed, namely, the existence of a pinch point in the wildlife corridor on the lower slopes of the mountains adjacent to this land.

It was decided that a golf course adjacent to the corridor would effectively make the corridor fit for purpose. Later, when Golder Associates took over the project from Norwest they made a very strong recommendation in a 2002 report that, of the four possibilities for using this land, residential development was the least acceptable, while a golf course would enhance the corridor.

If this land is developed for residential and/or commercial purposes, there will be an undue risk that infrastructure, roads, sewage pipelines, water supply etc. will experience damage and the taxpayer, municipal or provincial, as well as condominium owners, will be left to pay the bills.

So how should the land be used? I would respectfully suggest to the owners of this piece of land that they would be making a huge contribution to the valley where we live if they simply allowed nature, with some help from those of us who value our green space, to take over this area and allow it to become a nature reserve. I imagine that there would be a mechanism by which this could be done,

Philanthropy by a landowner could have no better example.

Gerry Stephenson,

Canmore