Canmore and MD of Bighorn square off over Dead Man's Flats development

A battle is heating up between Canmore and the MD of Bighorn over a proposed development at Dead Man's Flats that's right next to a wildlife corridor and an underpass used by grizzlies, wolverines and elk.

Town is concerned the district wants to build light industrial near a wildlife corridor

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman says the MD of Bighorn needs to be cautious about developing in wildlife corridors. (CBC)

A battle is heating up between Canmore and the MD of Bighorn over a proposed development at Dead Man's Flats that's right next to a wildlife corridor and an underpass used by grizzlies, wolverines and elk.

The MD of Bighorn wants to change the zoning on some of the land around the mountain hamlet to light industrial use, but neighbouring Canmore is opposed. The province is holding hearings on the dispute this week. 

Wildlife advocates are unhappy with a plan for a light industrial development near this corridor in Dead Man's Flats. (CBC)

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said there are a number of problems with development of the area — the animals may stop using the underpass and find unsafe places to cross the Trans Canada highway, or they may turn around and head back toward Canmore.

"And that's where safety issues arise, particularly the safety of humans, but also wildlife," he said.

Environment must be protected

The town filed an appeal against the changes through the Municipal Government Board, which adjudicates land planning and assessment matters. 

Dead Man's Flats is a hamlet in the Rockies just east of Canmore.

He said both Canmore and the MD of Bighorn must develop responsibly.

"One of the important things to know is hundreds of hectares of developable land have already been given up in the town of Canmore for wildlife corridors and habitat patches," said Borrowman. 

"So that's hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of land and future assessment, and we are just asking the MD to have the same perspective on the importance of protecting the environment and to find other options for their fiscal concerns."

Jodi Hilty is the chief scientist with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and is worried about the long-term impacts if animals are unable to migrate.

"We think it's really, really important, not just for today but for future generations, if we are going to sustain vibrant populations in this region," she said. 

MD lost tax revenue

Martin Buckley, chief administrative officer for the MD of Bighorn, previously told CBC News there are no immediate plans to develop the area, but the municipality has to keep its options open.

"We've lost some tax revenue as the result of the shutdown of a major gas plant up north, the flood has affected us as well. So it's a case of looking to the future for us," he said in November of last year.

Buckley also takes issue with the presumed impact of any development, and said there's no evidence the wildlife corridor would be impacted. 

The MD of Bighorn says it won't be providing any other comments other than its submission to the Municipal Government Board. The hearing is expected to last all week. 

With files from the CBC's Colleen Underwood