Dissecting the Silvertip proposal
The points below summarize some of the community's concerns with the latest proposals at Silvertip. They were submitted to the Canmore Commons — and are the results of a collective effort involving local scientists and town planners, concerned residents, an aspiring singer-song writer, and even a Buddhist monk (for good measure).
MUnicipal Development Plan and community values
The Silvertip proposal is out of step with Canmore’s freshly minted (September 2016) Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and key community values. The words casino, gaming, gambling and gondola do not appear in the 110-page document.
What is the MDP? According to the Town, it “guides the community on its path toward greater sustainability by integrating the community’s vision with municipal planning and decision making.”
In a 1998 plebiscite, Canmore was one of the first communities in Alberta to ban VLT (video lottery terminal) gambling. The ban is still in place.
Area structure plan conflict
Silvertip’s existing 2007 Area Structure Plan (ASP) doesn't allow for gondolas or gaming; these are not permitted uses.
However, Silvertip can apply to change its ASP and have successfully done so in the past; this would trigger a formal review process that includes public hearings.
Because Silvertip occupies land critical to wildlife, it's surrounded by designated wildlife corridors and habitat patches. The development proposal is massive in scale; the human-activity footprint would be significant.
Because Silvertip is proposing substantial new development adjacent to designated wildlife corridors, it should trigger Section 126.96.36.199 of Canmore’s Municipal Development Plan (i.e. BCEAG guidelines, plus current science), but this decision would be made by the town's elected councillors.
Out of date, incomplete environmental review
A comprehensive environmental review has never been done for Silvertip, only narrowly focused wildlife (ungulate) studies, most of which are more than 20 years old; no proper third-party review has been done (as would be required now). Golf fairways were once designated as wildlife corridors, which would be scientifically unacceptable today. Also, the project assessed 25 years ago is very different than what Silvertip is now proposing (i.e. it's now much larger). The Alberta Government stated in 1992 that Phase 2 (i.e. the resort phase) of Silvertip would “undoubtedly result” in a review by the Natural Resources Conservation Board, confirming the need for a NRCB or equivalent comprehensive environmental review.
According to the town, Canmore’s current population will double to about 34,000 after buildout. This makes Canmore by far the largest settlement in the Canadian Rockies, and roughly four times larger than Banff (pop. 7,847).
Existing and planned or proposed development in the Canmore region (e.g. Three Sisters, Silvertip and Dead Man's Flats etc) is a lot of new development in an ecologically fragile mountain valley that's home to threatened or sensitive wildlife species such as grizzly bears, wolves and lynx.
What are the combined, cumulative environmental effects of all these developments? Is there sufficient ecological room? To date, no studies have been done on this concern.
Home values down, traffic up, crime up
Casinos can reduce nearby home values by up to 20 per cent, often due to increased traffic. Other impacts could include increased crime. Existing residents in Silvertip are unlikely to welcome those possibilities.
Silvertip stated at an open house presentation in March 2017 that daily vehicle traffic volumes would be 1,800.
Noise and light pollution
The new gondola in Squamish, B.C., can be heard from about one km away, according to some reports. In other places around the world, residents have been affected by gondola noise.
The proposed gondola end station, restaurant and other infrastructure extend urban development and associated light pollution high up the mountain slopes.
The unique, authentic and 'wild' nature of the stunning peaks that surround Canmore would be irrevocably altered by a gondola development.
There are four other existing summer-use gondolas/lifts in the Bow Valley (Sulphur Mountain, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Norquay) for those unable to hike up a mountain such as Lady Macdonald. In short, there are other options to go up a mountain, and a gondola wouldn't make Canmore unique or special.
Silvertip said it has engaged Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation, which was successfully able to change a provincial park boundary in British Columbia to accommodate its gondola in the Squamish area.
Affordable housing and Low-paying jobs
Creating low-paying service sector jobs dependent upon lower cost housing doesn't address the existing gap in affordable housing, and could make the situation worse.
Entry-level hospitality positions typically offer seasonal or short-term work, with average wages around $16 an hour.
(Source: Bow Valley Labour Market Review, Spring 2016).
No long-term mitigation
No risk analysis
Two creeks could have implications for the Silvertip development: Stone Creek and Stoneworks Creek.
In the 2013 flood, Silvertip homes along Stone Creek were damaged.
Silvertip is proposing to build its staff housing in the Stoneworks Creek flood zone.
Although long-term flood mitigation is underway for Cougar Creek, there's been no work on either Stone Creek nor Stoneworks Creek in the Silvertip area. Some short-term mitigation has been done — and more is planned for 2018 — but this isn't enough for large, infrequent but statistically certain flooding events.
As a result of the destructive 2013 flood, the Alberta government no longer provides flood compensation (or flood mitigation funding) for new developments located in flood zones, meaning Canmore taxpayers could be held liable for the 850 staff housing units that Silvertip proposes in the Stoneworks Creek flood zone.
Flood risk in Canmore has historically been underestimated.
Bow Valley Wildlands Park/provincial issues:
setting a precedent
Currently, commercial structures such as gondola towers are not allowed in wildland parks. Locating and constructing gondola towers on the slopes of Lady Macdonald (within Bow Valley Wildland Park) would require a change to Alberta parks legislation, which could set a bad precedent for Alberta’s 33 other wildland parks.
“Wildland provincial parks are large, undeveloped natural landscapes that retain their primeval character.”
- Under legislation, the wildland park designation offers stronger legal protection than a provincial park designation.
Motorized use (gondola)
Motorized recreation (i.e. a gondola) is contrary to the management plan for Bow Valley Wildland Park.
4.0 Management intent and objectives (Page 17):
“Outdoor Recreation: to maintain or enhance opportunities for non-motorized recreational uses such as hiking, equestrian use, mountain biking, hunting and backcountry camping.”
6.3 Outdoor Recreation (Page 21):
“The provision of a wide range of non-motorized outdoor recreation opportunities is an important management objective within the Wildland Park.”
The Lady Macdonald trail is one of the most popular trails in the Canmore area, with a long history of use by hikers and other recreationalists. It appears in many guide books and on many maps. The gondola would alter the hiking experience.
Also, the gondola would require the closure of a designated Lady Macdonald paragliding site.
The Silvertip resort village would be adjacent to the important Upper Silvertip Corridor that's used by wolves, elk, grizzly bears, lynx and other wildlife species. The gondola would cross this important wildlife corridor, where human use is currently strictly regulated by the province.
The Silvertip and Mount Lady Macdonald area are important elk and Bighorn sheep habitat.
The early 1990s commercial scheme to build a teahouse on Lady Macdonald went bankrupt and Alberta taxpayers paid to remove the large concrete foundation and dilapidated structure. It's at this location where the gondola's end station — with a restaurant and other amenities — is proposed. Bankruptcy of large-scale developments is not uncommon in Canmore (i.e. Three Sisters also went bankrupt in 2009).
Public safety concerns
The gondola gives access to a high alpine environment. Users may or may not be prepared for dynamic conditions beyond the gondola's end point.