Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc.’s tenure application to operate a daily heli-skiing operation in the Selkirk Mountains on crown land that borders Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

Heli ski application bordering Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park denied

Public opposition, impact on ski-touring and snowmobiling industries and environmental values were factors in the Ministry's decision.

The Ministry of Forests has denied Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc.’s tenure application to operate a daily heli-ski operation on 14,666 acres of crown land in the Selkirk mountains bordering portions of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

The ministry’s explanation of why the application was disallowed listed a number of factors.

“The strong public opposition received in response to the proposal, impact to the ski-touring and snowmobiling tourism industry in the area and impact on environmental values are the factors taken into consideration for the disallowance of the application,” wrote Sharon Daily, section head for Kootenay Boundary region land authorizations in a letter posted on the ministry website.

The letter also contained some recommendations if Kootenay Heli-Ski wants to reapply.

“Should the proponent wish to pursue a guided adventure tourism activity in this area at a future date, they should engage with local communities and recreational clubs in the area by holding public meetings to understand the concerns and address the issues prior to making an application. Further mitigation measures on environmental values will also be required in a future application.”

The ministry urged the proponent to hold a public meeting, but there wasn’t one.

“A public meeting was suggested to the proponent by ministry staff,” the ministry told the Star. “Without a meeting, public concerns went unaddressed. The result was that this application was not supported by the local community and recreationalists, which was one factor in the decision.”

According to ministry staff, the challenge with this proposal was determining the actual impact of the proposed application with information only available from the referral agencies and public. Referrals went to local and provincial government agencies and First Nations.

The application was filed in March by proponent Wendell Maki, who also owns Kootenay Valley Helicopters based at the Nelson airport, and was denied on Oct. 27.

Maki told the Star he intends to submit a revised application, adding he hasn’t had time to review the entire package he received from the ministry a week ago, which contains suggested changes to his initial tenure application. He probably won’t be able to until he is finished a work assignment on the coast over the next few weeks.

“The application requires some changes and then we’re going to reapply,” Maki said. “When we do resubmit we’ll be addressing all of the concerns that FrontCounter BC had for our application. One of the concerns, after the fact, was they wanted us to consult with the public or whomever the concerned groups were.

“It’s interesting that another cat skiing operation tenure application was made in the nearby Slocan Valley but nobody seemed to know about that,” he said, explaining that application was denied for environmental reasons, although it faced nowhere near the same public backlash.

Maki also said the ministry never formally required a public meeting.

“At no point during our initial application process was that brought up. We did absolutely everything that was asked of us. We’re burning fossil fuels for recreation, and in Nelson, from what I’ve gathered, the opposition wasn’t going to be swayed by a public forum. If I didn’t have to, there was no reason for me to go and stand up there and get yelled at for burning gas for fun. If there was no requirement for me to do that from FrontCounter BC, which there never was, then there was no reason for me to go through that. No one else has ever had to do that.”

Maki said the whole process is subjective.

“I’m just a businessman and I want to provide a little bit of service,” he said.

The public was able to voice their opinion by submitting comments to FrontCounter BC until May 2. A freedom of information request by the Star for submissions received between March 28 and July 3 resulted in 383 pages containing 258 separate comments regarding the application, which were nearly unanimous in rejecting the idea. All but three opposed or strongly opposed the tenure being awarded. One asked for careful evaluation and two were in favour, citing economic benefits.

Most of those opposed took issue with the location bordering a provincial park close to Nelson, rather than the idea of heli-skiing. Common concerns included helicopter noise over residences, disturbing park animals, and taking away the backcountry feel from a popular recreation area.

In June, the Regional District of Central Kootenay asked FrontCounter BC for a public meeting with the proponent as did the Kootenay Mountaineering Club in a letter dated May 1 through the public submissions process.

In August, the ministry told the Star a regional land officer urged the proponent to hold a public meeting as requested by stakeholders.

The proponent planned to start the heli-skiing operation based out of Nelson this December, projecting 320 client days for the 2015-16 season. The management report estimated its full capacity would be 1,300 client days by 2019.

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