Council hears review of Environmental Impact Statement

*published in April 4 edition of the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The Town of Canmore’s third party reviewer of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for proposed development in Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) has outlined three main issues for council to review before first reading of a new area structure plan (ASP) is presented at the end of the month.

Management and Solutions in Environmental Science (MSES), the reviewer, highlighted the functionality of wildlife corridors, mitigation options and cumulative impacts during Tuesday’s (April 2) regular council meeting.

A packed council chambers was present to hear the report, which was provided as information that, according to Town planner Steven de Keijzer, “forms a key foundation of the ASP policies and land use regulations,” as the Town considers a development that could increase the population by 9,000 at full build out.

Golder Associates, the environmental consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who is the court-ordered receiver in charge of TSMV, submitted the required EIS to the Town last month, which was then reviewed by MSES.

Both lengthy documents by Golder and MSES were posted online via the Town’s website on March 26 and although the terms of reference between the Town and PwC indicated both parties should collaborate on the EIS, the MSES review was itself fully independent, the report to council noted.

The report also pointed out that in addition to the MSES review, Golder’s EIS will be examined by the Town’s Environmental Advisory Committee and Alberta Environmental and Sustainable Resource Development for review and comments.

Brian Kopach, the project manager for MSES, presented the report to council, which he said was prefaced with two major questions: are the wildlife corridors functional and does the EIS provide sufficient detail to make adaptive management decisions?

Regarding corridors, Kopach indicated the data used in Golder’s EIS to determine whether wildlife corridors are effective was based on habitat selection and not in their movement.

“We couldn’t get a clear picture of how animals moved in the Valley,” Kopach said, adding it is questionable whether, in their current form, the corridors are adequate for multiple species.

MSES did, however, agree with Golder on the fact human-usage, especially concerning dogs off-leash, are serious problems within the town and, as such, are compromising the effectiveness of the corridors.

One of the primary mitigation techniques proposed by PwC’s environmental consultant in their EIS is exclusion fencing around the proposed development, but according to MSES, the impacts of different fencing options was not explored in terms of how it will funnel wildlife into certain parts of town, for example.

Kopach also said the impacts of different development patterns and cost of proposed road crossings were missing in the EIS as well.

“While fencing may provide the projected benefits, fences could have a net negative effect and the impacts have not been evaluated,” the report noted.

Although the Town’s reviewer did welcome the framework for future monitoring and adaptive management, which included forming a stakeholder group or committee, Kopach said the baseline data “is not presented in a manner useful for testing predictions about future impacts.”

Adaptive management triggers, thresholds and timeframes for responses were not present in the EIS, he said, adding more examination of wildlife movement using existing and pre-construction, or movement, data is required.

MSES recommended the phasing of construction for the development to occur from north to south and west to east to allow adaptive management in response to monitoring.

A human-use trail study was also recommended to “understand who’s using it and how they’re accessing it,” the project manager said. Two years of monitoring the area prior to any construction as well as FireSmart vegetation management impacts on settlement patterns were listed as recommendations as well.

As stated in administration’s report, the recommendations from MSES are required “if the Town and the community are to achieve a reasonable level of certainty in the functionality of the wildlife corridor system during the next 20-30 years of development.”

Following Kopach’s presentation, members of council addressed questions to both MSES and the various Golder representatives present at the meeting, which again revolved heavily around corridors and the mitigation techniques proposed.

In response to a question from Councillor Sean Krausert, Golder wildlife biologist Kyle Knopff stressed the main concern, which was evident in their EIS, for effective wildlife corridors is the increasing amount of human-use.

“Without mitigation the main factor will continue to be human-use and wildlife movement into developed areas,” Knopff said. “That’s why fencing is the primary mitigation.”

The biologist also pointed out that, at present, there’s quite a bit of movement through the corridors and where development plans narrow a corridor, Golder suggests wildlife would move upslope.

Though Elk tend to inhabit landscapes with slopes less than 10 degrees, mainly to avoid predation, Knopff indicated other species such as grizzly bears and cougars can, and will, travel across slopes greater than 25 degrees.

“MSES is right about uncertainty,” he said in a closing remark. “There’s always uncertainty. We believe mitigations will work. It’s important to take an adaptive management approach. We should start putting development in place and continue monitoring along the way.

“Get wildlife used to the idea and test to see if it’s working,” he added.

In response, the MSES manager praised the work done by Golder, but also stated some specifics for council to make a decision are not present.

“What is option B?” Kopach asked. “How much impact is too much? How much to be deemed a success? Those specifics need to be planned now with this uncertainty.”

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