Proposed town excites investors
Project may face environmental opposition
Robert Remington, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006
Without a survey stake yet in the ground, interested buyers are already clamouring for building lots in a proposed new town at the gateway to the mountains west of Calgary.
"I've probably had a dozen calls from people asking if they could give me a down payment, but I've had to tell them we don't even have approval," says developer John Third.
The proposed town, on lands adjacent to the abandoned TransAlta company hamlet of Seebe, is set on cliffs above the Bow River with views of Mount Yamnuska and the Bow Valley.
The town, seen by some as a rare chance to create a model community from the ground up, is expected to get first reading by the Municipal District of Bighorn next month.
"We have a unique opportunity to do it right," says Dene Cooper, a bird-watching enthusiast, author and reeve of the M.D.
Among the benefits that could come from the new development is a much-needed regional waste-treatment facility serving the proposed new town, Exshaw, Lac Des Arcs, Dead Man's Flats, Morley and Bow Valley Provincial Park. The park currently trucks its waste to a facility in Kananaskis.
"We're unburdened by the decisions of previous councils," says Paul Ryan, a councillor with little tolerance for advocacy groups.
"Make sure your spam filters are working. The three-toed salamanders and the two-faced environmentalists are going to be e-mailing you," he told colleagues at a council meeting last week.
Environmentalists would prefer to see the site, known as the Horseshoe Lands, remain untouched, connecting the area to Bow Valley Provincial Park with public access.
But Cooper is convinced environmental connectivity can be preserved. Steep banks provide little human access to the river. Wildlife movement from the Bow Valley to Kananaskis occurs mostly through nearby Bow Valley Provincial Park, which is home to a sizeable elk herd.
The Horseshoe land is not good wildlife habitat, argues Third, manager of marketing and public relations for Moondance Land Company, developers of the site with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
The land is blocked by the Kananaskis River to the west, the steep banks of the Bow on the north, and the railway and highway to the south.
The area has little aspen, willow or other similar food sources for deer and elk, which in turn attract wolves and cougars, he said.
A provincial moratorium on water licences prevents the developers from drawing water from the Bow River.
That problem, too, appears to be overcome with a successful well the M.D. recently drilled at Exshaw that taps into an underground river with extremely high water flows.
"Think of it as an ancient Bow River 700 feet underground," Cooper said.
TransAlta sold the 218 hectares adjacent to Seebe to Moondance and the Stoney Nakoda for $11 million in 2003.
They are currently in negotiations to purchase the abandoned hamlet itself, which formerly housed company workers for the nearby dam at the junction of the Kananaskis and Bow rivers.
The proposed town would accommodate a minimum of 5,000 people but could go as high as 6,500, depending on density to be determined by the M.D.
There is provision for a commercial and light industrial section that could provide warehouse and storage space for suppliers serving the hotel industry in the Bow Valley and Kananaskis.
"I see this as being a win-win situation for a lot of people," Third said.
The picturesque setting has been featured in movies such as Brokeback Mountain, where the main characters, two cowboy lovers, jump naked from a cliff into the Bow River.
A German film company is currently shooting a movie on the north side of the river across from the proposed development.
The scenery of the area is also a favourite backdrop for car commercials, as Cooper discovered recently while bird-watching in Bow Valley Provincial Park.
He was approached by security for an automaker, who thought he was engaged in industrial espionage, capturing photos of an as-yet-unveiled new model cars.
"They covered the cars up right away and came over to us. They meant business," Cooper said.
"Once they knew who we were and what we were doing, they let us watch. But we had to put our cameras away."
© The Calgary Herald 2006