Sunshine Access Road Parking Threatens Public Safety

The ongoing parking congestion and heavy shuttle bus traffic on the Sunshine access road threatens the safety of visitors to Banff National Park and makes a mockery of climate change issues as well. Mixing heavy traffic, parked cars and pedestrians on a narrow mountain road in the middle of winter is a recipe for tragedy. For some reason, Parks Canada continues to allow this foolishness in breach of basic common sense and its own policies and guidelines.

What is Parks Canada thinking?  Is this really what passes for public safety, road safety, environmental leadership and a world-class” “visitor experience” in Canada’s Banff National Park?  If so, the wheels have truly fallen off the bus for the Canadian national park system.

Sunshine Village Snowmaking Damages Important Fish Habitat

The degradation of the Healy Creek area in Banff National Park continues due this time to negligent Sunshine Village snowmaking operations, which resulted in a large landslip into Healy Creek in December 2012.

Healy Creek and Bourgeau Base Area at Sunshine Village

Healy Creek and Bourgeau Base Area at Sunshine Village

The snowmaking system is used to increase capacity on the lower ski-out near the Bourgeau base area.  The increased capacity is needed because Sunshine Village has increased ski-lift capacity elsewhere on the leasehold as well as expanding parking capacity along the Sunshine access road. The ski-out is used by the thousands of additional visitors as a means of egress from the ski area to the parking lot. So Sunshine has cast aside its former “100% Natural Snow” promise and has implemented snowmaking systems to accommodate the increased traffic.  It’s not just the snow that is no longer natural at Sunshine Village.

As Sunshine just gets bigger and bigger, Parks Canada has repeatedly failed to properly manage the Sunshine Village Lease Agreement and has also failed to restrict Sunshine Village operations within the lease boundary as promised in the 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines.  As a result, Sunshine Village parking operations now extend almost all the way to the Trans-Canada highway 8 km away and well beyond the lease boundary.  This expansion already causes environmental damage due to garbage left along the roadside for which Sunshine denies any responsibility to clean up.

The Healy Creek valley was already significantly impacted even before the landslip, which caused further environmental damage to an important bull and cutthroat trout habitat.  Sunshine Village also removes water from Healy Creek for snowmaking.  The creek flows right through the base area adjacent to the Bourgeau parking lot which has capacity for up to 1700 vehicles.  Hundreds more vehicles are parked along the public road for an additional 8km along the waterway towards the main Bow Valley.

Parks Canada chose not to fine Sunshine Village for the environmental damage and instead made excuses for excusing the company’s negligence.  Parks Canada has lost sight of its primary mandate and role to protect Banff National Park for future generations.    Violations under the federal Fisheries Act can result in substantial fines and the risk of imprisonment.   For some reason though, Sunshine Village rarely faces proper and adequate enforcement actions by Parks Canada.

This latest incident highlights the multi-faceted environmental pressures and damage being done by Sunshine Village operations but the company wants to increase parking capacity even further and to expand the ski area terrain near Wawa Ridge.  Those plans will add further unsustainable and increasingly intensive impacts in the Healy Creek valley.

Healy Creek is an important watershed and tributary of the Bow River in Banff National Park.  The area is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Additional Information:

Sunshine Village Expansion Negotiations Confirmed

Canadians who may have thought the issue of ski area expansion in Banff National Park was over, are in for a rude wake up call.  It’s back !!

Only weeks after Peter Kent (Federal Minister of Environment) approved the development of Brewster’s Glacier Discovery Walk in Jasper National Park, media statements from both Sunshine Village and Parks Canada appear to confirm that negotiations are under way for expansion at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort in Banff National Park.

In response to questions from the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Crosbie Cotton (Director of the National Parks Ski Area Association) stated that

“We’re in negotiations with Parks Canada to try and come up with what the future resort looks like. It’s premature to discuss anything we might be looking at.”

By “premature” he probably means he would prefer the public only gets a few weeks for comments, as occurred with the Glacier Discovery Walk.  Asked about internal plans at Sunshine Village to build a lift on Wawa Ridge, Cotton prevaricated.

 “I don’t think so. I don’t know if it’s in, I don’t know if it’s out,”

He wasn’t asked if it was in or out, he was asked if Sunshine has been looking at the option.  The answer to that should be easy – Yes or No!!

Wawa Ridge is at least a kilometre beyond the current lease boundary and the Wawa skyline is visible from the vicinity of the town of Banff.  Sunshine Village already has radio equipment installations located on Wawa Ridge that are routinely serviced by snowmobile and helicopter.  Internal planning discussions at Sunshine have included lift access to that area and the cutting of additional ski runs in the “Side-door” and ‘Back-Door” areas.

Cotton also tried to downplay the issue of Sunshine’s expanded parking operations on the public access road.

“A few times a year, during peak seasons like the Family Day weekend, Christmas and Easter, there’s parking on the road and we’re trying to manage the best of a bad situation,”

Cotton maybe needs to learn to count.  Sunshine uses the road for parking far more than a “few times a year”.  He  blamed the problem on previous governments instead of acknowledging that the problem actually exists because Sunshine has increased lift capacity far in excess of it’s parking capacity, and has failed to adopt the parking solutions and limitations established in the 2006 Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines.

Consistent with what appears to be the new pro-development mandate at Parks Canada, Pam Veinotte (Banff National Park Superintendent) simply parroted Cotton’s disingenuous spin (much as her counterpart in Jasper did with the Glacier Discovery Walk even before it was “approved”).  If Veinotte actually believes Sunshine is only using the road for parking “about 10 times a year” she needs to get out of the office more.  It’s only a short drive and then she can hop on a Sunshine shuttle bus for the rest of the way to enjoy this so-called “world-class experience” with real park visitors.

Notably, Cotton is ruling out solutions, like a parkade, which would maintain the current footprint as is required by the 2006 guidelines, which means they must want to destroy more wilderness in Banff National Park to create a “solution” to accommodate the hundreds of additional cars that are parked at times half-way from Sunshine to Banff .  A parkade costs money while environmental destructive “solutions” are cheaper.   Sunshine has created the “problem” and now appears to be using the “problem” to demand more concessions from Parks Canada.  Parks Canada is conveniently allowing the problem to grow year after year and appears on-track to eventually use this fact to approve more deforestation, earthworks and environmental destruction in the Healy Creek Valley.

Both Sunshine Village and Parks Canada appear to have no regard at all for the 2006 guidelines that clearly state the following (emphasis added).  If Parks Canada won’t abide by and apply its own policies how can anyone trust anything the agency says about this or any other development in any national park in the country?

Use of mass transit will be the primary means to address parking issues. Parking lot reconfiguration and expansion within the existing Developed Area can be considered within terrain and ecological limitations. New skiing parking nodes will be prohibited. Use of existing parking lots off-site can be considered, preferably in the communities, in order to support shuttle bus services.

What this proves is that the problem is never going to go away.  The real problem is that Sunshine Village can’t and won’t live within its agreed lease area boundary.  It wants more and more and more.  The other problem is that Parks Canada has truly forgotten what its mandate is and can’t be trusted to draw the line.  In fact Parks Canada is helping Sunshine Village to ignore and avoid the agency’s own public policy.  By allowing Sunshine Village to encroach on what should be pristine protected land and/or to use a public road as an 8km long parking lot, Parks Canada is allowing unofficial expansion and “historical use” that will make it much easier to rubber-stamp environment-damaging “solutions” later on.

It’s time to wake up and draw the line – Brewster’s Glacier Discovery Walk is just the beginning of a new era of commercial development in Canada’s national parks and an ominous warning of bad things to come.  The issue of ski area expansion in Banff National Park is clearly back at Sunshine Village and it’s under negotiation right NOW!

YOU CAN HELP STOP THIS NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE
What can you do today to help protect the future of Banff National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)?

  1. Please sign the Avaaz petition to demand that Parks Canada draws the line with Sunshine Village.
  2. Spread the word via Social Media – and please link to this page.

Thank you.