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February 20, 2012

Negotiations on glacier walk moving forward

staff writer

Parks Canada and Brewster Travel Canada are moving forward with negotiations about a proposal for the construction of a glass and steel bridge in Jasper National Park, which will allow tourists and visitors to walk suspended above the Sunwapta Valley and the Columbia Ice Fields.

“We are extremely happy with the outcome of this decision,” said Michael Hannan, President of Brewster Travel Canada.

“Over the course of these past two years, we have worked with Parks Canada to ensure all environmental guidelines and regulatory processes not only meet but exceed the standards set for projects operating within a national park.”

Parks Canada recently announced that the Glacier Discovery Walk project has met environment assessment guidelines and is acceptable within Parks Canada’s policy framework, which governs the management and protection of our national parks.

The proposed project will consist of a 400-metre interpretive boardwalk and a glass-floored observation platform extending 30 metres out over the Sunwapta Valley. The tourist attraction would be owned by Brewster Travel Canada and replace a roadside turnout on Highway 93.

Sturgess Architecture of Calgary, RJC Consulting Engineers and PCL Builders Inc. produced the design for the project, which involves the construction of a cantilevered steel frame composed of irregular shapes that match the natural setting.

The design follows the natural landscape of the mountainside, then extends 30 metres outward to provide the bridge with a transparent glass floor.

Parks Canada delayed the decision on the project proposal, in order to take additional time to review the environmental assessment, as well as comments from the public.

“A major challenge in Canada’s national parks is to manage development in order to protect the area for future generations, while offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy and understand the national parks,” said Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.

“During the public consultation process, we heard from many Canadians representing many perspectives.”

A draft environmental assessment was released for a three-week public review period on Nov. 23, 2011.

The review process included open houses and an extensive public and aboriginal engagement program, as well as close examination of potential environmental effects and the consideration of public input under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

As part of the CEAA process, Brewster commissioned a wildlife impact study that focused on collecting mountain goat and bighorn sheep data.

The study provides information about how and when mountain goats and bighorn sheep use trails and cliffs in and around the Sunwapta Canyon Viewpoint.

The public comment closed on December 16, 2011.

As a result, the project will be subject to mitigation measures and proceed to the next steps in the development review process, including lease negotiations and construction agreement.

The Glacier Discovery Walk will be constructed on a previously disturbed, existing right-of-way for the Icefields Parkway.

The Icefields Parkway opened in 1940 as a scenic road for the use and pleasure of national park visitors.

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