July 16, 2024

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Alberta not evaluating environmental impact of Three Sisters village

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Alberta not evaluating environmental impact of Three Sisters village

A residents’ group argued the sprawling development was never reviewed under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the most recent assessment is 32 years old

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Alberta won’t undertake an environmental assessment of Canmore’s controversial Three Sisters development because it doesn’t believe it has jurisdiction to decide whether such an assessment would be warranted, the province said Wednesday.

The decision comes after a Canmore residents’ group and local First Nation claimed the most recent assessment of the project was outdated by more than 30 years and required an updated review.

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The province’s department of Environment and Protected Areas said in a Wednesday letter that it lacks jurisdiction to decide whether an environmental assessment is warranted, saying the Three Sisters Mountain Village’s ongoing construction is “a continuation of the overall tourism and recreational project that was applied for and approved … in 1992.”

A Canmore residents’ group called Bow Valley Engage (BVE) asked the department in early January to undertake an environmental impact assessment, arguing the sprawling development was never reviewed under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA).

BVE’s letter also said the only environmental reporting is either municipal, which fails to meet EPEA requirements, or is 32 years old, referencing the 1992 Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) decision.

Alberta’s environment department is not required under current legislation to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment.

In its request to the province, BVE asked the department to assess First Nations rights, the project’s environmental effect, an assessment of Canmore’s housing needs and other issues. In particular, BVE’s submission highlights concern over Three Sisters’ effect on the wildlife corridor between Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park.

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Alberta Environment previously approved the Three Sisters wildlife corridor in 2020, which the department said in January “was several years in the making.”

“The department’s experts closely considered both scientific and technical reports, and input from local residents and others as part of the assessment process,” wrote Tom McMillan, director of communications for Alberta Environment, in a Jan. 10 statement.

BVE submitted its request in early January and Stoney Nakoda First Nation filed its letter on Feb. 7, according to the letter. Postmedia has not seen the First Nation’s submission.

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A review would have substantially delayed the development’s timeline.

In order to have jurisdiction to warrant an assessment, the province needs to establish the project classifies as a “proposed activity,” said Corinne Kristensen, director of regulatory assurance section for the department of Environment and Protected Areas, in her letter to legal counsel for all involved parties.

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“I am of the opinion that I lack jurisdiction to determine whether an environmental assessment of the project is warranted at this time,” Kristensen wrote, citing the process described in section 44 of the EPEA.

The decision coincides with Stoney Nakoda First Nation’s court application against Canmore and the Alberta government aiming to halt the housing developments.

The First Nation is asking the court to declare the developments invalid or void, alleging neither level of government consulted with Treaty 7 members.

It’s the latest chapter in the 30-plus-year saga involving Three Sisters Mountain Village, which will cover 154 hectares of undeveloped land.

Legal battles over its future came to a head last October when the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled the development must go ahead despite objections from the town’s council. The court found the projects were aligned with the NRCB’s 1992 review, meaning under the Municipal Government Act, Canmore’s town council was required to approve the developments.

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