Conservation groups say a newly-approved plan to expand Mount Norquay ski hill in Banff will have a negative impact on wildlife.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent gave the go-ahead Tuesday for the Mount Norquay 2013 Long Range Plan.
It calls for widened runs, a tea house, an observation deck and a cable-assisted summer hiking route known as a via ferrata.
The resort must also improve habitat in the area by closing and restoring a ski run in a wildlife corridor.
"We’ve been working on this together for probably the past six years, and it’s finally come to fruition," said Peter Sudermann, who co-owns the resort.
But Norquay is being allowed to break a promise it made not to expand its summer operations in exchange for expanding its ski facilities decades ago, said Carolyn Campbell, a conservationist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
"That tradeoff was really clear. We have a letter from the mid-1990s from the president and general manager at the time who [were] part of extensive consultation. It was part of agree tradeoffs that they would give up summer use in order to get winter expansion," Campbell said.
Mike McIvor, president of the Bow Valley Naturalists, said he expects other resorts in the area will now try to get permission for similar projects.
"I have no doubt they are rubbing their hands with glee. Currently they have a federal government that is very sympathetic to that sort of exploitation of natural landscapes," McIvor said.
But according to Sudermann, Norquay’s expansion will improve wildlife habitat and reduce run-ins between people and animals.
The plan includes a new transportation strategy that will see guests brought up the road to Norquay in groups to reduce the number of vehicles using the route, he said.
"One has to keep in mind that the ski areas are great habitat for wildlife, so as we widen the runs it also increases the habitat for the wildlife coming through Norquay," Sudermann added.
Construction will start this summer. Sudermann said he hopes to have the expanded facilities fully operational by 2014.