Thursday, May 26, 2016

Packed house for 'Save the Waterton Field' event

Rashelle Leishman, Save the Waterton Field

A public forum, organized by the 'Save the Waterton Field' initiative, was attended by a couple of hundred residents and visitors packing the conference room at the Lodge at Waterton Lakes, on Saturday, May 21st. The event was moderated by Dr. Nolen Olsen, with standing room only. Official representation from Parks Canada was conspicuously absent, as Superintendent Ifan Thomas declined to attend the Public forum, although he and many other Waterton Park officials had been invited two weeks prior and allotted time to speak when the forum was organized. CTV News and Global News reporters were in attendance from the media. Presentations began with 'Save the Waterton Field' coordinator, Bonnie Fromm, providing background information on the situation arising from a March 7, 2016 Parks Canada Press Release that had stated a new Visitor Reception Centre would be built in the townsite.

Park Management had indicated in previous television interviews that they believe the necessary consultation has already been completed by Waterton's 2000 Community Plan. Mrs. Fromm indicated that since that time, the public had also been consulted during the 2010 Park Management Planning process. She cited The Waterton Management Plan Key Actions Section 5.1.4 Bullet #3: “Investigate the feasibility of locating a new visitor centre at a site along the entrance road across from the Lake Linnet/Middle Waterton Lake day use area. This site will improve access for visitors, provide a positive welcome and sense of arrival, and mitigate impacts on the wildlife corridor in the area of the current visitor centre.” She explained that the current 2010 Management Plan explicitly states that it replaces the old 2000 Management & Community Plans, and that the area north of middle Waterton Lake would be a safe, accessible location for visitors, would not increase townsite congestion, and could provide the necessary parking and space for future expansion.

Section 8 of Park's Canada's Guiding Principles on their website was quoted that there must be public involvement and adequate notice and time for review of public projects. It was mentioned that Parks Canada made the decision on location of the project during the winter, which did not allow time for public review or necessary studies of the location during the busy summer season. Mrs. Fromm stated that she had emailed the Superintendent requesting the date of the supposed public consultation, how it was advertised, the minutes of the meeting, and those who were in attendance, but had still not received a response to these specific questions. Two and a half weeks later, the Superintendent emailed back that Parks Canada would now be holding a community session in June, but no date, time, agenda, or location was specified.

Of particular concern to many in attendance was the scoring matrix from the Site Study conducted by Jenkins Architecture, where Parks Canada had weighted public safety at 3.9 out of 100.

Mrs. Fromm stated, "Several years ago, Parks Canada management in Waterton spent hundreds of thousands of dollars studying the safety of the long-toed salamander and even built special underground tunnels for them to cross the road safely. How much time and money have they spent ensuring the safety of our children if the new Visitor Centre is built in the field next to the playground in the townsite? From Parks Canada's own website: 'Salamanders may be small, but they are not insignificant!' We think Waterton's young two-legged human visitors deserve as much consideration as our little four-legged amphibious friends."

She also commented that the "Ability of (the) site to accommodate future needs" ranked last in 13th spot out of 13 possible criteria, although this was the main reason Parks Canada had said a new VRC was needed.

Lesley Little, President of the Waterton Lakes Leaseholder's Association, cited a survey that they had done last fall of their own members, where 94% of those polled were opposed to Parks Canada's proposed location of the VRC in the townsite. She made it clear that there had not been adequate consultation with leaseholders and that her requests for public input had been ignored.

Leaseholder and working committee member Garry Ursenbach reviewed sites to be considered with a PowerPoint presentation showing relevant maps.

Gray Greenway, leaseholder and cottage owner, concluded the formal presentations focusing on the public's right to the physical data leading to the site selection in the townsite, as it is absent. He emphasized that Parks Canada has not followed due process and that the public has a right to this information.

An open mic discussion ensued, with many individuals posing questions and commenting on the situation with the VRC as it has evolved to the present. Concerns ranged from lack of public consultation, to pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, loss of culture, wildlife mitigation, and environmental impact.

Representatives of the Save the Waterton Field Initiative also met with Foothills MP, Mr. John Barlow, on Friday, May, 20th, and sent him off to Ottawa with approximately 1400 petition signatures, background information, and an explanation of the group's concerns. That same evening, at the Improvement District #4 meeting in Waterton, a delegation made presentations to the council with respect to the current situation regarding Parks Canada's proposed Visitor Reception Centre.

The Waterton Community Centre hosted annual general meetings on Monday, May 23rd for the Waterton Park Community Association and Waterton Lakes Leaseholder's Association. Elections were held, updates of various ongoing projects were reviewed, and notably, the WLLA passed motions by a large majority of leaseholders to explore a legal claim against Parks Canada regarding the VRC, as well as earmark $10,000 for that purpose.

For more information visit:
#watertonfield #savethewatertonfield

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