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Bike trail tender withdrawn

The proposed route of the Icefields Trail parallels Highway 93 from Jasper to Wilcox Campground.

The proposed route of the Icefields Trail parallels Highway 93 from Jasper to Wilcox Campground.

This story originally appeared in the Rocky Mountain Outlook on April 27, 2017.

BANFF – Parks Canada has suddenly withdrawn a public tender call for the design and delivery of a controversial $86.4 million paved trail from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield.

A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna confirmed the decision earlier this week.

“Parks Canada has withdrawn its tender in relation to the design of the proposed Icefields Trail project,” wrote Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers, the minister’s press secretary, in an email.

“This was determined to be premature given that the agency is currently focused on the consultation process and the environmental assessment for the proposed project.”

The tender call on – a site used for government purchases – showed Parks Canada was actively seeking a civil engineering firm for the delivery of a 109-kilometre paved path between Jasper and Columbia Icefield.

The bid, which went up in March with a June 9 deadline, appeared to be the latest in a growing trail of evidence suggesting the project was a done deal even though public consultation was underway. The first round of public consultation wrapped up on April 24.

Language used in the tender call also suggested the path was a done deal.

“A future second phase, not included in this contract, will complete the Icefields Trail, to the Municipality of Lake Louise in Banff National Park,” read the tender documents.

A series of Parks Canada emails, memorandums and draft communication strategies obtained under Access to Information legislation also suggested the three-metre wide paved trail would move ahead.

Minutes of an Icefields Trail steering committee meeting last October indicate Parks Canada was “driving the project towards beginning construction ASAP next season” – three months before public consultations began.

In an initial communications plan in August 2016, staff drew up a timetable for media events, including one to mark the start of construction when the Jasper-Columbia Icefield portion of the project was “shovel ready.”

“The proposed consultation and engagement strategy for the Icefields Trail project has been developed with the goal of supporting project implementation,” according to the documents.

While a former aggressive timetable for construction has now been pushed back, yet another earlier document seems to indicate the plan all along has been to move ahead, despite what Parks hears during public consultations.

“Once public and Indigenous consultations are held successfully, construction would begin in spring 2017. The project is expected to be completed by March 2019,” it read.

The Association for Mountains Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) and some cycling organizations have expressed support for the trail, noting it will be a great visitor experience and a safer option than riding on the scenic highway.

On the other hand, local and national conservation groups oppose the project, fearing it could lead to conflict between grizzly bears and people, and also cuts through critical habitat for two threatened species – mountain caribou and whitebark pine.

With the first round of public consultations ending on April 24, information will be compiled and fed into the draft detailed impact analysis, which will be available for comment mid- to late summer of 2017.

“The proposed Icefields Trail project is currently in the conceptual phase and no decisions have been made regarding the project,” wrote Des Rosiers in her email.

The 2016 federal budget earmarked $65.9 million for the project, with Parks Canada kicking in $20.5 million from its infrastructure investment program.

Cathy Ellis – Rocky Mountain Outlook
Special to the Fitzhugh

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