Crowsnest su­per­high­way a bad idea

Lethbridge Herald - - READER'S FORUM - David McIn­tyre

The lat­est edi­tion of ISL En­gi­neer­ing’s High­way 3 plan­ning ex­er­cise is on the ta­ble. It’s ugly. It show­cases what can hap­pen when en­gi­neers are given an equa­tion in which speed, alone, de­fines out­comes.

En­gi­neers as­signed to cre­ate a twinned su­per­high­way have pro­posed a plan that, if acted upon, would de­grade one of Al­berta’s most scenic river val­leys, its rarest for­est, a head­wa­ters com­mu­nity, and nu­mer­ous his­toric sites. In­con­gru­ously, they have also cho­sen to ig­nore the tow­er­ing threat im­posed by an un­sta­ble moun­tain, and are poised to des­e­crate the world-renowned Frank Slide.

If the pro­posed pro­ject is im­ple­mented, the sign at the Travel Al­berta In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre greet­ing vis­i­tors from Bri­tish Columbia will need to be re­worded. My sug­ges­tion: Wel­come to Al­berta — land of wan­ton de­struc­tion.

The Crowsnest River val­ley’s tight, rock­walled ser­pen­tine course, paired with the ad­ja­cent ex­panses of tor­tured to­pog­ra­phy, would make a high-speed high­way pro­posal on this land­scape prob­lem­atic even if the river, a com­mu­nity, an ex­ist­ing high­way and a rail­way weren’t al­ready part of the com­plex lo­gis­ti­cal equa­tion.

To­day, in­cred­i­bly and ab­surdly, the high­way-plan­ning process on this land­scape, like a run­away boul­der, has crushed ev­ery­thing in its path. How did it ac­quire this false mo­men­tum?

The plan­ning pro­ce­dure needs to read­dressed, and the peo­ple of Al­berta need to be di­rectly in­volved. Hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars — as well as health and safety is­sues — are hang­ing in the wind.

Some of the engi­neer-en­vi­sioned out­comes:

1. Con­struc­tion of a “truck route” through the last re­main­ing ves­tiges of an in­cred­i­bly rare and eco­log­i­cally in­tact Crowsnest River val­ley head­wa­ters land­scape;

2. Cre­ation of a maze of roads within the his­tor­i­cally “pro­tected” Frank Slide;

3. Con­struc­tion of an ad­di­tional 30 kilo­me­tres of roads within the al­ready over­whelmed-with-roads C rows nest River val­ley;

4. In­stal­la­tion of 30 km of large-mam­mal-proof fenc­ing along both sides of the pro­posed speed­way;

5. Re­lo­ca­tion of the Al­berta Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion Weigh Scales into the core of High­way 3’s blood­i­est road-kill death zone.

I stood in dis­be­lief dur­ing ISL En­gi­neer­ing’s pub­lic in­for­ma­tion ses­sion as a re­viewer asked a pre­sen­ter how to exit the pro­posed high­way in or­der get to Cas­tle Pro­vin­cial Park. “What park?” was the ISL re­sponse.

The per­son ask­ing the ques­tion was stand­ing near the north­ern border of the park, but was ul­ti­mately told he’d need to drive east to­ward Pincher Creek in or­der to find the ob­scure fea­ture.

Any­one look­ing at the big pic­ture to­day — well, per­haps any­one other than a pro­ject-lust­ing engi­neer — can see there are phys­i­cal con­straints that over­whelm the avail­able space and scream for a high­way so­lu­tion that favours hu­man health and well-be­ing, a slower pace, and safety.

The win­ning high­way so­lu­tion needs to em­brace the land’s wealth of wildlife, its scenic splen­dour, its abun­dance of al­lur­ing cul­tural re­sources and his­toric sites.

This por­tion of High­way 3 de­serves des­ig­na­tion as a Her­itage High­way, a la­bel used to re­de­fine the high­way’s func­tion, pro­tect the land’s ar­rest­ing beauty, and its value to so­ci­ety.

The pri­mary de­sign cri­te­rion: sus­tained land­scape in­tegrity.

The Frank Slide, North Amer­ica’s most deadly rock­slide, is one of Al­berta’s most vis­i­ble and widely known his­tor­i­cal sites. It’s a haunt­ing ceme­tery, a sa­cred sea of frac­tured tomb­stones. Is it time to dig up the dead?

Do the peo­ple of Al­berta wish to de­stroy the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural value of this world-renowned as­set in or­der to drive a lit­tle faster?

Let’s step back for a sec­ond. Let’s throw logic and san­ity into the wind. As­sume the worst. Imag­ine that en­gi­neered chaos will pre­vail. Envision the head­wa­ters of the Crowsnest River con­sumed by a twinned su­per­high­way … and re­al­ize that the re­cently named Jim Pren­tice Wildlife Cor­ri­dor will need to be re­named the Jim Pren­tice Me­mo­rial Speed­way.

As so­ci­ety works to cre­ate a bet­ter to­mor­row, it’s im­per­a­tive to plan for a fu­ture that serves, em­braces and gives strength to a net­work of vi­brant com­mu­ni­ties and the peo­ple who live within them. By sup­port­ing qual­ity-of-life is­sues and putting san­ity and safety ahead of speed, Al­ber­tans can sus­tain a par­adise that al­ready ex­ists by sim­ply en­sur­ing that an ex­ist­ing foun­da­tion for fu­ture worth is not need­lessly sac­ri­ficed.

There is no value in spend­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to trans­form a revered, world-class, Crown of the Con­ti­nent land­scape into a high-speed exit ramp into Bri­tish Columbia. This is not the way to im­press — nor at­tract — world trav­ellers.

The Crowsnest val­ley, long known as Dis­as­ter Al­ley, re­mains ex­posed to threats of colos­sal pro­por­tion. At the fore is a rock­slide pre­dicted to cas­cade into the Crowsnest River val­ley from the frac­tured, desta­bi­lized face of Tur­tle Moun­tain.

Is it not fool­ish to pro­pose high­way con­struc­tion within the mapped and well-known path of a pro­jected rock­slide, a land­scape sci­en­tists have told plan­ners and com­mu­nity lead­ers to avoid due to the risk to hu­man life?

Con­struc­tion oc­cur­ring in close prox­im­ity to Tur­tle Moun­tain can be seen to be par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous and il­lad­vised. Blast­ing as­so­ci­ated with road build­ing or nearby min­ing ac­tiv­ity can be ex­pected to el­e­vate the dan­ger of the fore­cast rock avalanche, in­creas­ing its like­li­hood.

Un­der­ground min­ers in days-of-old said this: “You’re only as safe as the stu­pid­est man in the mine.” The say­ing, to­day, might be dragged from the dark and dan­ger­ous depths of yesterday’s mines, ex­posed to the light of day, and used as a foun­da­tion for se­lect­ing mem­bers of a sound, fu­tur­is­tic plan­ning team.

What­ever hap­pens in the head­wa­ters of the Crowsnest River val­ley, so­ci­ety, led by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and fol­lowed by lawyers, is sure to be watch­ing.

David McIn­tyre lives on the land he loves in the sto­ried head­wa­ters of south­west­ern Al­berta’s Old­man River. He holds a MSc from the Col­lege Of The En­vi­ron­ment, Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, and, for decades, led multi-day study tours for the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion — via hik­ing and white­wa­ter raft­ing trips — through­out the U.S. West and the Cana­dian Rock­ies.

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