The June 1 Crowsnest Pass council meeting included discussion on possible ways for the municipality to recoup money spent on outdoor recreation infrastructure, as well as discussion on staffing the Bellevue tourist hut and how best to respond to a letter claiming the municipality accepted money in return for giving support to coal companies.
Possible trail fees?
Coun. Glen Girhiny asked for a discussion about how to offset the amount of tax dollars spent on outdoor recreation infrastructure, which is most often used by visitors who don’t contribute to the municipality through taxes.
“A lot of people come here because there are no fees,” he said. “We do spend a lot of taxpayer dollars on maintaining the roads to staging areas and outdoor areas where people can have some fun.”
Coun. Lisa Sygutek agreed, noting that visitors parking on residential streets to access hiking and bike trails was causing congestion in local communities.
“We’re going to have issues here,” she said.
Mayor Blair Painter acknowledged that much of the outdoor recreation enjoyed in the Crowsnest Pass area is on provincial land but said people visiting these areas often use municipal facilities.
“If you’re using our facilities, our waste bins, our washrooms, whatever — I think that’s where we have to do something,” he said.
Council members floated several ideas on collecting revenue to cover the expense of infrastructure, including trail fees and parking passes.
With too many hypotheticals on how collection and enforcement might work, council directed administration to investigate what types of fees other mountain communities implement for outdoor recreation.
After setting aside over $60,000 to repair and staff the Bellevue tourist hut, feedback from the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce made council reconsider the plan of resurrecting the structure as a tourist information centre.
Council had decided to spend $40,000 on staffing the hut with employees for the summer months and had approached the chamber to see if it would be willing to partner in operating the tourist centre.
After discussion with board members, the chamber felt employing a static tourist facility was the wrong way to go, given the dropping numbers of tourists that visit such facilities across the province.
The chamber offered an alternative partnership that would see $30,000 of the original $40,000 used to hire three roaming adventure advisors. The idea was an extension of a 2019 pilot program where an employee travelled throughout popular tourist sites in the municipality with information, as well as engaging visitors on a one-on-one basis to answer any questions they might have.
Although intrigued with the idea, council decided to forego funding the adventure advisors and to postpone a decision on staffing the visitor information hut until the 2022 budget cycle.
Administration received a letter from an individual living outside the municipality who was highly critical of proposed coal development in the municipality.
While receiving anti-coal correspondence was nothing new, Mayor Painter took exception to the writer’s claim that “Crowsnest Pass Council and some bands [were] taking monies from coal companies in return for their support.”
“I thoroughly object to this comment,” the mayor said. “Our municipality has not taken any funds from any coal mines, and I think we should be sending a letter back to this lady clearly stating that. I find with social media you can throw a bunch of garbage, everyone believes it is true — but when it comes on a piece of paper addressed to me I take great offence to this.”
“It’s inflammatory, it’s spineless, and it’s wrong,” added Coun. Sygutek. “It looks like we’re taking gifts as a council in order to promote coal mining and that is 100 per cent erroneous.”
The letter also claimed the Group of Seven countries had recently “agreed to stop international funding for coal.” While not entirely false, the actual agreement stipulated ceasing new government funding on unabated thermal coal projects, or projects that burn coal to produce electricity without any technology to reduce carbon emissions.
All proposed coal projects in and around Crowsnest Pass are metallurgical coal mines, or coal used in the process of creating steel.
Along with sending the letter to Crowsnest Pass administration, the writer had emailed it to over 90 recipients, most of whom were members of the legislative assembly.
Council directed administration to reply to the letter, requesting a correction, and forward the response to every other email the original letter was sent to.
The next council meeting will be held in the MDM Community Centre gymnasium in Bellevue, July 6 at 7 p.m. The meeting agenda and package will be made available online at bit.ly/CNPagenda.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze