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Rafter Six hearing raises concerns

A public hearing for a proposed amendment to the Rafter Six Ranch Resort where owners are seeking permission to redevelop cabins garnered little overall opposition, but did raise some concerns about long-term effects on wildlife.

A public hearing for a proposed amendment to the Rafter Six Ranch Resort where owners are seeking permission to redevelop cabins garnered little overall opposition, but did raise some concerns about long-term effects on wildlife.

Rafter Six owners Stan and Gloria Cowley are attempting to amend the ranch’s Area Structure Plan (ASP), adopted in 2006 to guide future tourism and resort development at Rafter Six Ranch Resort, to allow them to redevelop the site of their existing 13 cabins.

As proposed, the Cowleys want to construct 30 cabin-type units (to a maximum of 42 units) and construct a western-styled main street where the commercial and retail aspects of the ranch would be located.

According to Bighorn planner Tracey Woitenko, the ASP stated the current cabins would be redeveloped, moved or demolished.

“We think this development could be handled within the context of Phase 1 development. The permit process could handle some of the issues that could come forward,” Woitenko said.

Ben Lee, a land use planner with IBI Group, said Rafter Six is proposing the cabins as the ranch offers limited accommodation options for overnight guests.

Rafter Six, Woitenko said, sits within a regional habitat patch flanked by wildlife corridors. Bow Valley Provincial Park and the YMCA’s Camp Chief Hector also occupy this habitat patch.

Woitenko added the proposed development would be located in disturbed areas or in areas with vegetation types that are abundant.

Rare or sensitive plant communities of Douglas fir, trembling aspen and osier dogwood are not at risk as they are away from site, while the cabin redevelopment site, which sits on four to five acres, sits beyond the property line which is set back from the Kananaskis River by 50 to 60 metres.

The cabin redevelopment site is also away from the wildlife corridor along the Kananaskis River identified by the Bow Corridor Ecosystem Advisory Group in 1999.

A secondary wildlife corridor runs along the west side of the site.

However, in a letter to the MD of Bighorn submitted for the public hearing in opposition to the proposed amendment, Steve Donelon, regional director, Kananaskis Region, Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, stated the provincial agency is concerned with the incremental ASP amendments proposed since the plan was approved by increasing use in the area and the effect that will have on wildlife.

“Potential impacts to the important regional wildlife corridor contained within BVPP are a significant concern. Contrary to the Wildlife Impact Assessment provided with the ASP, recent evidence of use of the area by wolves, cougars, grizzly bears and black bears exist and in some cases resident individuals have been identified,” Donelon wrote.

As a result, Donelon wrote that Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation is recommending Bighorn council:

consider the full capacity of the ranch before approving further incremental ASP changes;

consider the conditions and land use intent that guided the initial approval of the ASP;

provide more detail on the amount of development and human activity anticipated in the proposal and the effect on land in the vicinity of the ranch;

consider cumulative effects the increased density, development and activities could have on the region;

and identify the proposed uses in detail and ensure they are consistent with the land use intended for the area and that they will not negatively affect existing plants, animals and recreation activities in the area.

Lee said the ranch recognizes Alberta Park’s concerns are valid and as a result have considered them as part of the planning process.

“In the more finite short-term, Rafter Six has always operated with Western values and First Nations’ perspective. The natural capacity of the land is one of the modus operandi. If the land capacity is not there, they will not provide services they cannot offer,” Lee said.

Lafarge Canada, meanwhile, also submitted a letter in opposition as a means to ensure that if Rafter Six is ever sold, potential future owners understand that the cement company has reserves in its shale and aggregate quarries along Highway 1X for the next 75 years, according to Lafarge representative Trevor Selanders.

“Lafarge supports the proponent based on the expectation… that if any part of the land comes for sale that the potential buyers remain fully aware of Lafarge’s plans to operate into the future,” Selanders said.

Bighorn council approved Phase 1 of the plan, which includes water and waste management, staff accommodation and relocation of the Cowley residence, without further studies as part of the ASP.

In late fall 2009 council approved an ASP amendment allowing the ranch to increase a proposed 40-unit hotel to 112 units.

A larger, 500-unit hotel is proposed, along with an equestrian centre and conference centre in phases two to four of the overall redevelopment project.

Lee said Rafter Six is hoping to begin construction in 2012–13.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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