The Fine Line Between Safety And Disaster

The difference between safety and tragedy is often a fine line.  Especially when it comes to avalanches.  Especially in seasons of unusual avalanche activity.  Especially when an area intended for use as a roadway is instead an intensive use parking area and the agency responsible for public safety turns its back on the situation.

Here’s the proof !!

On March 6th, 2012 a large destructive avalanche hit the Sunshine access road following control work by Parks Canada public safety staff.  The following video demonstrates the reality that the March 6th avalanche took down mature timber and hit and buried the road well beyond the usual path.

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A few days after this avalanche the March 15, 2012 issue of the Rocky Mountain Outlook reported Crosbie Cotton (Director of the National Parks Ski Areas Association)  stating that Sunshine Village “works hard to give people safe parking” and “does not allow parking in avalanche zones”.

Then Parks Canada hastily placed signage prohibiting parking in the same area that had previously been used by Sunshine Village to park guest vehicles and pick-up and drop-off shuttle bus passengers.   In the following photos it’s still possible to see the Sunshine signage designating parking area #3 right in the middle of the new no-parking signs. (Click on thumbnails for larger images)

 

 Parks Canada Parking Prohibition Signage

The photo above shows the Sunshine Village parking locator sign (#3) situated BETWEEN the two Parks Canada signs that were placed to prohibit parking in the avalanche path that ran on March 6th, 2012.  Prior to that, Sunshine Village regularly parked guest cars and operated a shuttle bus stop in the area designated by sign #3.

This is what happens when informal “arrangements” take the place of formal transparent public process and due diligence.  Lines get blurred, accountability and responsibility gets fudged and the buffer between safety and disaster gets narrowed and lost.

The road is NOT intended to be used for intensive parking and shuttle bus stops.  It is intended to be used as a ROAD (go figure!!) with vehicles passing THROUGH avalanche areas and NOT being delayed, stopped and parked bumper-to-bumper in their vicinity.   The avalanche path was there all along and the potential hazard was as well.  Fortunately, this potentially KILLER avalanche came down as part of planned avalanche control work when the road was closed and when it was not being used as a parking lot.  But things could easily have been different.  Avalanches don’t always wait for human triggers and Sunshine’s parking lot attendants are not trained to evaluate avalanche hazards.

The avalanche hazard is only ONE of the public safety issues arising from the parking expansion.  There are others, as well as environmental, wildlife and visitor experience issues.  All of which Parks Canada ignores in its effort to bend over backwards to accommodate Sunshine Village.

This problem would not exist of Sunshine Village abided by the terms of its lease and Parks Canada policies.  The public roadway is outside Sunshine Village’s operational lease boundaries and well beyond the allowed parking footprint.   Parks Canada is responsible for regulating the road and protecting public safety but the agency instead turns a blind eye to Sunshine’s activities, makes excuses for the corporation and allows private corporate profits to supersede public safety due diligence.

Banff National Park superintendent Pam Veinotte describes the situation as a “short-term measure” that “isn’t ideal”.   That’s one way of spinning it.   The truth is it has been going on for years.

When will Parks Canada put public safety, environmental protection, wildlife and visitor experience FIRST ??  When will Parks Canada enforce the Sunshine lease agreement and its own public policy guidelines instead of solely serving private corporate interests on the Sunshine access road?  Don’t hold your breath – it’s becoming clear where Parks Canada priorities rest.

Meanwhile, heads up – next season, think twice before blindly accepting where a Sunshine Village parking lot attendant tells you is safe to park the family car….and the people in it.

Please sign the Avaaz petition to make Parks Canada enforce the lease and its own policy on the Sunshine access road

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.

Breach of BC Parks Act ?

It appears that Sunshine Village may have substantively breached the BC Parks Act.  If so, should there be a legal consequence?

In follow-up to the operation of commercial snow-cat tours beyond the Sunshine Village ski area boundary this past season, Sunshine Village Watch has obtained a copy of the BC Park Use Permit for Sunshine Village.  A review of the Permit for Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park indicates no apparent authorization for commercial snow-cat tours in the Park which is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to the permit, Sunshine Village winter operations are permitted in accordance with the following permit provision:

Winter Season Permit Area
Those portions of Sunshine Village Ski Area falling within the boundaries of Mount
Assiniboine Park, including the right of way containing the Continental Divide quad
chairlift and portions of the Boundary Bowl, the Green Run, South Divide and Lower
Divide ski runs. It includes 10 kilometres of undefined cross-country trail east of Rock
Lake and north of Larix Lake and a groomed track circumnavigating the slopes of
Standish Hump. The permit area includes approximately 40 hectares. It also includes a
20 meter wide water line right of way departing north from Rock Isle Lake following the
west side of the Rock Isle Lake trail to the Park Boundary.

The permit is very specific about limited activities beyond the ski area boundaries in the area where the snow-cat tours occurred.  The “cross-country” area may only be used on a non-commercial basis for team training.  The groomed track circumnavigating Standish is for search and rescue only.

Cross-Country Trails and SAR Trail
a) The Permittee may track set up to 10 kilometers of cross-country ski trails in the
meadows east of Rock Isle Lake and north of Larix Lake, for the exclusive
training use of cross-country teams. Park Use Permit fees charged for the use of
these trails are reduced as they are supplied as a non-profit service. The trails
may not be used commercially by the Permittee;
The Permittee may set a track around the perimeter of Standish Hump for the
purpose of Search and Rescue Operations.

The permit was only recently renewed for a period of 30 years and is dated December 2010, therefore it is reasonable to assume that the provisions of the permit must have been well known to Sunshine Village when the snow cat tours were being operated only a few months later.  Regardless, a brief review of the permit would have been prudent and would have also confirmed that nothing in the permit authorized such an activity by Sunshine Village.

There appears to be nothing in the permit that could be reasonably interpreted to allow commercial snow-cat operations and bonfires on the shores of Rock Isle Lake.  During the Easter 2011 holiday period, Sunshine Village conducted snow-cat tours to Rock Isle Lake. Rock Isle Lake is well beyond the Sunshine Village boundary and well outside the designated commercial operations area.  It is adjacent to the world-renown pristine Sunshine Meadows in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.  It is also questionable that these tours occurred with adequate emergency planning and response capability for personal injury or environmental issues such as a fluid spill.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain UNESCO World Heritage Site.   To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of “outstanding universal value” and meet at least one out of the ten selection criteria.  The UNESCO World Heritage Convention details the purpose for designating such sites and areas and the duty to protect and conserve them.

The BC Parks Act states as follows:

Occupancy and use of land restricted

16  Except as may be authorized by a valid and subsisting park use permit or resource use permit, a person must not do any of the following:

(a) use or occupy land in a park, conservancy or recreation area for a log storage area, mill site, road, right of way, disposal area for tailings or waste or any other industrial purpose;….

(e) establish or carry on any work or improvement or any commercial or industrial activity or enterprise in a park, conservancy or recreation area.

Where such activities occur without authorization or permit, the Act contains provision for legal sanctions as follows:

Offences and penalties

28  (1) A person who contravenes any provision of this Act commits an offence and is liable to a fine of up to $1 000 000 or a term of imprisonment of not more than one year or both.

….

(3) When a contravention of the Act or regulations continues for more than one day, the person is guilty of a separate offence for each day on which the contravention continues.

….

(5) The time limit for laying an information for an offence under this Act is

(a) 3 years after the date that the facts on which the information is based arose, or

(b) if the minister issues a certificate described in subsection (6), 18 months after the date that the facts on which the information is based first came to the knowledge of the minister.

(6) A certificate purporting to have been issued by the minister, certifying the date that the facts on which the information is based first came to the knowledge of the minister,

(a) is admissible without proof of the signature or official character of the person appearing to have signed the certificate, and

(b) is proof of the certified matters.

BC Parks is administered by the BC Ministry of the Environment.  The Minister responsible for BC Parks is the Honourable Terry Lake.

The Ministry of Environment’s contact information is:

PO BOX 9339 STN PROV GOVT
VICTORIA BC V8W 9M1
Telephone: 250 387-1161
Fax: 250 387-5669
E-mail: www.envmail@gov.bc.ca

Minister’s Office

Honourable Terry Lake
PO BOX 9047 STN PROV GOVT
VICTORIA BC V8W 9E2
Telephone: 250 387-1187
Fax: 250 387-1356
E-mail: env.minister@gov.bc.ca

A copy of the full BC Park Use Permit for Sunshine Village is available here