Environmental groups are taking Parks Canada to court over its decision to allow tent cabins at Maligne Lake.
Ecojustice lawyers representing the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Jasper Environmental Association (JEA) have filed a federal court case in an effort to strike down the approval to build new overnight commercial accommodations (OCAs) in Jasper National Park.
“This concept goes against the management plan,” said the JEA’s Jill Seaton. “In our view that’s against the law.”
In 2012, Maligne Tours proposed building a 66-room hotel and 15 tent cabins at Maligne Lake, one of Jasper National Park’s most-visited destinations. This past July, Parks Canada rejected the hotel concept but agreed to the idea of allowing the tent cabins, if Maligne Tours could pass a more detailed review. While some saw the decision as a compromise, critics warned that the advancement of the tent cabins would trigger a Parks Canada management plan amendment to allow for the release of necessary lands. The JEA and CPAWS said the amendment would open up a horrendous precedent.
“It didn’t seem to us to be a good management plan but at least it was something,” Seaton said. “Now, because somebody wants to make a bit more money up at Maligne Lake they’re opening it up. That doesn’t seem right.”
The 2010 Management Plan for Jasper National Park prohibits new land being released for overnight commercial accommodations outside of the Jasper town site and quotes the 2007 OCA guidelines which says there shall be no new OCAs in national parks.
“The policies prohibiting new commercial accommodations outside park town sites were put in place specifically to limit commercial development and protect our parks’ ecological integrity,” said Alison Ronson, executive director of CPAWS’ Northern Alberta chapter.
When Parks Canada released its decision on the hotel in July, Jasper National Park Superintendent Greg Fenton said the the amendment to park policy would not necessarily set a precedent for development in Jasper and other parks.
"It doesn't have direct applicability in terms of other management plans for Parks Canada because we don't take a cookie cutter approach to management plans," he said.
The court case will be heard in Calgary. There has been no date set yet.
The JEA has fought environmental battles in court in the past. They were part of a group in the mid 1990s which fought against Hinton’s Cheviot Mine and they also acted as interveners in proceedings surrounding whitewater rafting on the Maligne River.