RDEK board votes against supporting tourism tenure

Directors concerned about opposition from local residents, helicopter flight patterns.

Regional government representatives denied supporting an adventure tourism tenure near Armour Mountain west of Kimberley during a monthly board meeting last week.

Northwest Mountain Experience Ltd. is proposing a 10,000-hectare tenure in the southern Purcell mountains for cross-country nordic skiing and summer hiking tours. The proposal includes the construction of a lodge, a cabin and trails.

The provincial government — specifically the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development — has the ultimate authority to approve or deny the tenure application, however, as part of that process, the RDEK board of directors are given a referral and have the option to provide or withhold support as a local government body.

Daniel Morton, the proponent of the tenure, delivered a presentation to the board during committee meetings on Thursday and Friday, hoping to allay concerns over helicopter flights and environmental stewardship.

Morton said he wants to use A-Star and Bell 407 helicopters — a $2,300 an hour expense — only once a week and needs only one day to fly in all the construction materials for a 1,500-square foot lodge and smaller cabin in separate locations.

“There’s very few flights, ever, to go up the St. Marys; I know there was concerns about the flights and the sounds up the St. Marys,” Morton said. “We’re planning to fly from Crawford Bay, we have a lot of support from the community in our proposal; they look forward to the economic benefits that we’re going to provide and I’ve had several meetings with folks there and they’re well aware of the flight pattern there.”

Morton also took issue with his business proposal being singled out when other activities such as logging and hunting and guide outfitters are using the land base for their businesses.

“The pattern I see here is that they’re all extracting natural resources from the area,” Morton said, “and I have full respect for those who hunt as part of their lifestyle and living, but then when I look at what our proposal is, we’re basically asking for nordic cross-country skiing and summer hiking.

“I want to take people in there to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and have a low-impact approach to our proposal.”

Opposition from locals, RDEK directors

Area E director Jane Walter, whose electoral area covers the St. Marys Valley, said she has received a lot of opposition to the tenure proposal mainly due to helicopter access concerns, specifically with noise disturbance to local wildlife.

“The helicopter flights is my largest concern,” Walter said. “There is already a similar tenure in the area and their helicopter trips disturb our domestic animals and pets. These animals are used to human contact and loud noises. Just imagine what this noise will do to wildlife.”

Area A director Mike Sosnowski, who voted against the tenure proposal, suggested Morton would have better success gaining public favour by changing his management plan to ensure helicopter flights only go between Crawford Bay and the proposed lodge site.

Currently, Morton’s management plan does have a helicopter staging area for flights at a farm up the St. Marys valley.

Kimberley mayor Don McCormick noted that it’s not the job of the RDEK board to approve the project — that responsibility is up to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).

“We’re not here to do FLNRO’s job for them,” said McCormick, “and I think that sometimes in dealing with the local bureaucracies, we tend to get very frustrated trying to do their job for them and I don’t think we should be doing that, particularly in the case of the tenures.

McCormick said that nature is a huge draw for people to move to the area, not just backcountry tourism operators, and that eco-tourism businesses are just as concerned about environmental stewardship as the public because any adverse damage would affect their bottom lines.

“I can assure you, that the investment that these backcountry businesses need to make, is substantial, both in terms of money and in terms of time and livelihood for these people,” McCormick said.

“They aren’t going to go in and jeopardize that by having a business that is going to be counter to stewardship in the backcountry. For us in providing either referrals or FLNRO a decision, fear, uncertainty and doubt are not decision criteria. We have to rely on facts and behaviour.”

Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft suggested amending the motion to add in the RDEK board’s specific concerns on helicopter flight access as part of it’s referral to the provincial government — an amendment that was shot down by Radium Village mayor Claire Reindhard and Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt.

“The proponent has already told us that helicopter access is going to be from Crawford Bay,” said Pratt, “and he also said the cost of those helicopters. So if he’s proposing to come out of Crawford Bay, he’s figured out his costs and he’s not going to come up the St. Marys if it’s going to cost him a helluva lot more money.

“I don’t think we need to get involved in putting down constraints about the helicopter access. He’s addressed that.”

The Armour Mountain Lodge proposal is one of two adventure tourism tenure proposals in the area; Retallack, a Nelson-based backcountry operator, has partnered with the Lower Kootenay Band for a 70,000 tenure in the same area.

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