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Conservation Groups React to Alberta Environment's Appeal of Recent Judicial Review Decision

Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

For Immediate Release August 19, 2004

The Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) are disappointed that Alberta Environment will appeal the recent result of a Judicial Review that quashed the departments decision not to order an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the expansion proposed at Castle Mountain Resort (CMR). On July 2nd 2004, the Court of Queen's Bench found Alberta Environment's decision to approve the real estate and ski terrain development at CMR without an EIA "patently unreasonable", and ordered the department to reconsider its decision in accordance with the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

CMR proposed to expand its ski terrain onto an undeveloped mountain, to add a new chairlift, new runs, and cat skiing. Along with the expanded ski terrain, CMR would also like to increase its residential townsite to 225 housing units, and to add a hotel and hostel, pubs, restaurants, RV lots, local roads, and parking lots. In 2002, the CCWC, a Pincher Creek-based conservation group working to protect southwestern Alberta's Castle Wilderness, sought a Judicial Review of the government's decision to waive EIA requirements for new developments at CMR.

“We are disappointed that Alberta Environment has decided to appeal this decision. The person tasked with deciding whether an EIA is required, Alberta Environment’s Director of Assessment, recommended no less than five times that an EIA be done for CMR’s proposed expansion,” said Jeffrey Emmett, Executive Director of the CCWC. “The Court of Queen’s Bench found that ultimately Alberta Environment did not live up to the requirements of its own legislation. Now the department is appealing the fact that it has to follow its own rules.”

The Westcastle Valley, where CMR is located, has the highest rate of precipitation of any valley within the Alberta's eastern slopes. Also, CMR is directly adjacent to the Westcastle Wetland, which has been identified as unique, significant and environmentally sensitive.

Both conservation groups are concerned about the impact the resort will have on water. “We find it difficult to believe that the Alberta Government’s ‘Water for Life Strategy’ claims that efforts to protect aquatic ecosystems in critical areas are underway, and at the same time it permits the creation of a year-round townsite right beside a sensitive wetland. All this in the valley that boasts the eastern slopes’s precipitation without even the modest consideration of an EIA.” states Joe Obad CPAWS’ Conservation Director for Southwest Alberta. "We encourage the government to live up to the best motivations behind the ‘Water for Life Strategy.’ Requiring an EIA for development in this crucial watershed would be a good start," adds Obad.

“An EIA would not stop this development, it would provide information about the impact of the ski terrain and real estate expansion, and most importantly it would provide information about how to mitigate those impacts” said Jeffrey Emmett, Executive Director of the CCWC. “This was done when development was proposed at this ski hill years ago; an EIA was done and full public hearings were held before the provinces’ Natural Resource and Conservation Board (NRCB). In 1993, the NRCB recommended the creation of a protected area, whether or not the ski resort expansion went ahead. The proposed expansion at CMR will impact the environment, there is no question; the NRCB Decision Report #9201 offers a sound way to mitigate those impacts- the creation of a Wildland Park. We wish Alberta Environment would spend its energy protecting the environment, rather than dragging things out in the courts,” he concludes.

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For more information contact:
Jeffrey Emmett, Executive Director CCWC: 403-627-5059, cell 403-627-8556 www.ccwc.ab.ca
Joe Obad, Conservation Director – Southwest Alberta CPAWS: 403-232-6686 www.castlewilderness.ca

Posted August 19, 2004 by russ

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