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Town of Banff keeping state of local emergency in its 'back pocket'

Banff to keep state of local emergency for now in case it needs extra powers if visitation becomes too high
20200605 Banff Ave 0151
Pedestrians walk down the middle of Banff Avenue on Friday (June 5). On Friday, the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue and a portion of Caribou Street were closed to traffic to make more room for people on foot to be able to physically distance due to COVID-19. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BANFF – The Town of Banff is maintaining its state of local emergency for now. 

Officials say Banff’s emergency coordination centre will consider lifting the special authority given to the municipality by the Alberta government during the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming weeks.

“The idea is to monitor the next couple of weeks in regards to the volumes of visitors,” said Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management, during a council meeting on Monday (June 8).

“We’re keeping that state of local emergency in our back pocket in the event that we do need those extraordinary powers.”

Under the state of local emergency, the Town previously used that authority to conduct checkstops and turn regional day-trippers away until the tourist town was ready to safely open in early June.

The Banff townsite and surrounding national park, which typically sees four million visitor a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been slowly reopening to visitors. About 50 per cent of businesses are open in some capacity.

Last weekend, the Town of Banff went ahead with plans to close off the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue and a portion of Caribou Street to vehicles for summer to help people be able to social distance and to help struggling businesses.

Providing more space for pedestrians allows cafés and restaurants to have tables and seating on the sidewalk and gives plenty of room for customers at retail stores to queue if necessary outside.

Darren Enns, the Town of Banff’s planning and development director, said flaggers began managing in-bound and out-bound traffic on Saturday (June 6), which was a warm, sunny day.

“Our vehicles per day on Saturday were around 11,500 – about 50 per cent roughly of what we would have have seen on a Saturday of the same weekend last year if you want to get a sense of how busy the town was,” he said.

“We didn’t see any significant congestion on Saturday, likely a result of very low vehicular numbers, and then Sunday was a wash out… the volumes were so low that nothing really registered in terms of impacts.”

The Town’s IT department is working on revamping its system to count the number of pedestrians in the downtown core during the vehicle closure, which runs until September.

Once the barricades went up to block vehicles, Enns said people intuitively occupied the street.

“I felt that was very interesting from a human nature perspective … that this is where people want to be,” he said.

“That backdrop of Cascade Mountain is something that we often take for granted, but I was very encouraged to see visitors partaking in that photo opportunity that we get to live in everyday.”

In terms of shortcomings on the first weekend of the downtown vehicle closure, Enns said few day-trippers parked their vehicles at the intercept lot at the train station at the west entrance to town.

“It was highly under-prescribed. Honestly, less than 50 cars,” he said.

“We need to think about, in my mind, maybe some strategies to further drive vehicles into the park lot.”

In the closed area, few businesses at this point have set up sidewalk seating for cafés and restaurants, as well as outdoor merchandising.

Enns said that’s more a function of timing and to a lesser degree permitting.

“We’re seeing requests for permits coming in from a number of businesses,” he said.

“I think it will probably be a matter of a week or two before we see those who are able to operate on the street actually operating.”

The Town of Banff has set up 23 public hand sanitizing stations and plans to have patrols of the downtown core to make sure visitors and residents abide by the two-metre social distancing regulation.

“We will be stepping up foot patrols in the 100 and 200 block of Banff Avenue to help educate folks on social distancing,” said Adamo, also noting cycling and skateboarding is not allowed in the pedestrian area.

Council thanked staff for getting the vehicle closure in place within such a short timeline.

“It was really neat to go down and walk around and get a sense of the look and feel of it,” said Councillor Corrie DiManno.

“I am really interested to see how it works this summer.”

Meanwhile, the emergency management centre’s enforcement and security branch continues with patrols community-wide, with community peace officers conducting more than 1,400 proactive patrols as of June 3.

In that same timeframe, 617 COVID-related educational warnings were issued.

There were also 13 fines and 34 warnings for public consumption of liquor, two fines and seven warnings for public consumption of cannabis and eight fines and nine warnings for disobeying directive signs.

Only four cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Banff National Park and all patients have recovered.

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