HASH(0xb48f84)

Parks Canada documents suggest tight timelines for Icefields Parkway bike path

Icefields trail: Documents suggest tight timelines

VANCOUVER — Parks Canada often promotes the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff as “one of the most scenic drives in the world,” but a plan to build a bike path along the route has hit its fair share of bumps in the road.

Documents suggest Parks Canada has been rushing ahead with the project after receiving federal money in 2016 with a two-year expiry date.

Months before public consultations began, officials discussed when shovels could hit the ground and looked ahead to a “kickoff” event that would celebrate the start of construction.

“The agency has lost its transparency and its respect for public engagement,” said Alison Woodley, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society national parks program director, who added the project should have never gotten off the ground.

“They’ve got this massive influx of money and now the money is driving the project instead of due public process.”

Last year’s federal budget contained $66 million to develop a 107-kilometre bike trail from the Jasper townsite to the Columbia Icefields along the parkway. The trail, with a total budget of $86 million, could eventually extend all the way to Banff.

Cyclists currently hug a narrow shoulder along the highway. Parks Canada is proposing a separate, paved route buffered from the busy road by 10 to 20 metres of trees, but environmental groups say it will damage sensitive caribou and grizzly bear habitat.

Public consultations began in January. Environment minister Catherine McKenna is expected to make a final decision based on the results of public feedback and a yet-to-be-completed detailed impact analysis, also known as an environmental assessment.

However, documents obtained under Access to Information legislation by researcher Ken Rubin and provided to The Canadian Press suggest that Parks Canada staff have been proceeding for months as if the project is a done deal.

In a draft communications plan prepared in August 2016, staff wrote up a timetable for media events that included an event to mark the start of construction, “when Phase 1 of the project is shovel ready,” at an undetermined date in 2017. The timetable also includes a ribbon cutting to open Phase 1 — the Jasper to Columbia Icefields portion — at a undetermined date.

“There’s a big push to start spending in these first two years as (budget 2016) funding is not available to be carried forward to the third year,” say August meeting minutes.

Parks Canada spokeswoman Audrey Champagne said in a statement that public consultation and engagement are key priorities. The proposed trail is currently in the conceptual phase and no final decisions have been made, she said.

“The feedback Parks Canada receives will be carefully reviewed and used to inform decisions on the overall project,” she said.

She added that strict development limits are in place to ensure the protection of ecological integrity in national parks.

“Parks Canada remains committed to a rigorous development review and environmental assessment process that ensures all development proposals comply with these limits and that a park’s ecological integrity is maintained,” she said.

But meeting minutes suggest the agency has been looking ahead to construction for months.

“Engineers cannot wait until the IA process is complete,” read minutes from June 2016, referring to the impact analysis.

The next month, an action item directed one staff member to determine “how long the IA process will take before ground can be broken.”

By mid-July, the goal was for construction to begin in May or June 2017. The bird breeding period was a concern, with minutes saying it “could significantly slow down the process and determine how we manage the construction phases.”

In a status report in August, the project schedule is described as “extremely aggressive and could be considered high risk, however it is listed as medium risk due to the very preliminary state of detailed schedule preparation and analysis.”

The documents also raise concerns about effects on wildlife. They say sight lines need to be cleared to give cyclists travelling 30 kilometres per hour about four to five seconds of vision ahead, which is “important to avoid human-bear conflicts.

“Where sightlines need to be shorter, use signs to ask users to make noise,” the documents say.

A preliminary analysis also indicated the trail would “overlap with caribou habitat.”

The House of Commons environment committee expressed concerns in a report last month that Parks Canada’s public consultations have become limited to a few weeks of geographically restricted consultations, often after years of closed-door discussions with private developers and once internal decisions have already been made.

“Despite repeated questions to numerous witnesses, the committee was unable to determine what process led up to the announcement in budget 2016 of a $65.9 million investment for a new biking and walking trail in Jasper National Park,” it said.

“More transparency in decision making is required.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Langley Rotarians work for clinics in Kenya

Local Rotary Clubs are asking locals to think of others at Christmastime.

Looking Back: Dec. 14, 2017

The community’s history as recorded in the files of the Langley Advance

Throwback Thursday: December 14, 2017

Can you help us caption a photo from Langley’s past?

Giants invite fans to toss teddy bears at Langley game

The annual Teddy Bear Toss takes place at this Sunday’s home game in the LEC.

Langley Christmas Fun: a listing of holiday events, Dec. 14, 2017 edition

Langley events: LangleyAdvance.com/add-event or news@langleyadvance.com (subject: Christmas Fun).

VIDEO: Carollers bring festive sounds to Langley City most Fridays

Shoppers will once again be entertained by choirs, musicians and bands this month in McBurney Plaza.

Debt-to-household-income ratio rises in third quarter

Total household credit market debt grew to $2.11 trillion in the third quarter

B.C. Mountie told to resign after texting teenage sex assault victim

RCMP documents say Const. Brian Eden sent sexually inappropriate photos to 17-year-old girl

Family doctors should learn to treat addiction, not shun patients: scientist

B.C. Centre on Substance Use’s Dr. Evan Wood said efforts underway to change addiction medicine image

Update: Small fire near Maple Ridge tent city

Occurred outside camp Wednesday night

Four dog deaths investigated in Cranbrook

One vet suggests a parallel to these deaths and similar ones in 2016

Meningococcal disease outbreak declared in Okanagan

Five cases in last six months among 15- to 19-year-olds, including one in Vernon

Military life gives way to chance as author

Retired Chilliwack officer pens book about life in Afghanistan

Province rejects Ajax mine in Kamloops

KGHM Ajax had proposed a 1,700-hectare open-pit copper and gold mine, just southwest of Kamloops

Most Read