Parks Canada has finally acted, in the interest of public safety, to (partially) restrict the Sunshine Village parking expansion on the access road. It’s better late than never and at least they finally did something before anyone died. But, the question still needs to be asked and answered; Just where does public safety fit into the confused priorities of the financially gutted, muzzled and politically-controlled Parks Canada Agency these days?
The Rocky Mountain Outlook recently reported that Parks Canada made the decision after evaluating a massive avalanche that hit the access road in March.
“It came down a lot bigger than it ever has before… it exceeded the usual slide path by about 150 metres. If it had gone naturally it would have been disastrous and that pointed out to us our expectations needed to be revisited,” ~ Bill Hunt, Parks Canada – Banff resource conservation manager (as reported in the Outlook).
“Our expectations need to be revisited” !! Well, isn’t that a cute euphemism? The reality is that the access road was never intended for use as a concentrated overflow parking operation. It’s a public road designed for through-traffic only. Each day, often in severe winter conditions, it carries many hundreds of private vehicles, heavy trucks, coaches and emergency vehicles. Parks Canada has permitted a highly dangerous and inappropriate use to occur season after season because the agency failed to enforce the Sunshine Village lease, failed to enforce the 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines and failed to engage in transparent public safety studies, wildlife studies, risk management planning and public input. Instead it just allowed an intensive parking operation to extend up to 8km along a narrow public mountain road.
The same kind of parking congestion problem on nearby Moraine Lake Road resulted in it’s closure in 2011 and 2012 by RCMP for “public safety reasons”. Why is the Sunshine access road different?
It is now clear that what Sunshine Village Watch has been saying all along is true. This was a disaster in the making. Condoning hundreds of vehicles being parked in the close vicinity of major avalanche paths without conducting a detailed survey and planning of the actual paths is nothing short of negligent. What was Parks Canada thinking by allowing this to occur? Why did the profit priorities of Sunshine Village take precedence over the safety of park visitors? Just who is Parks Canada serving?
Even after the March 2012 avalanche, Sunshine Village continued to spin the story that it didn’t park vehicles in avalanche paths. The company made this public statement despite the fact that the exact extent of the avalanche paths was unknown and the March avalanche had clearly hit the road where cars had been recently been parked in the past. A subsequent email from Sunshine’s lawyers last summer seemed to pass the buck altogether, stating that Sunshine merely assists Parks Canada to provide safe parking, an argument that seems to move responsibility and liability away from Sunshine Village and onto the public agency and the public purse. With no lease or formal agreement in place there is no clear understanding of who is responsible for safety and liability. One thing is clear though – all this confusion and risk serves only one end, the bottom line profit of Sunshine Village.
Unfortunately, Parks Canada still hasn’t learned the lesson in all of this. The agency is still allowing Sunshine Village to run an ad-hoc high-intensity parking operation on the rest of the road. This continues despite the obvious public safety, environmental and wildlife concerns that continue to take a back-seat to the profit of a private corporation overflowing its lease boundary and breaching Parks Canada policies.
Here’s what should happen immediately. Parks Canada should put aside its lap-dog approach to the situation and stand up for public safety, wildlife protection and environmental management. Put a stop to all Sunshine Village parking operations on the access road. If Parks Canada won’t do it, the RCMP should. It’s a public road – not a parking lot! Restrict Sunshine Village to operations contained within its lease boundary and in accordance with the terms of its lease and the 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines. Stop the backroom deals, the spin-doctoring, cute euphemisms and double-speak. This is Banff National Park not some backwater in a distant banana republic. Canadians have expectations of that fact and those are the expectations that need to be rapidly revisited by senior Parks Canada officials, since apparently they have been long forgotten.