Tag Archives: Environment

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.

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Parks Canada Acts To Prevent Disaster On Sunshine Access Road

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.