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Locals reject ‘ludicrous’ subalpine rally track plan

The Rover Creek Watershed sign, at the bottom of Rover Creek Road, reads the backcountry is for everyone. The Nelson Daily photo

The owner of Snowwater Heli Skiing says a driving course he’d like to build near his sub-alpine lodge in the Bonnington Traverse area will bring jobs and greater economic security for his business… but locals are panning the idea.

“When I got this proposal in my email, it was in April,” says KL Kivi, a member of the Blewett Conservation Society. “I thought it was an April Fools’ joke. Because the words “rally car driving track” and “Snowwater Creek” are so just out of the realm of reasonable.”

What’s raised Kivi’s ire is a plan by Snowwater Heli to build a 6.7-kilometre closed course road in the Snowwater Creek area, below Copper Mountain. It would be built on an 85-hectare site recently clearcut next to the ski operation’s lodge.

“The track will look like logging road, but we have the outside corners bermed for safety,” says Patric Maloney, the owner of Snowwater Heli and the project proponent.

Maloney says the track, adjacent to Snowwater’s lodge on the Rover Creek Road, will add an important facet to Snowwater’s operation, which has been hit hard by variable weather in recent years.

“Basically in 2015 we suffered a huge financial loss,” he says, explaining where the idea came from.

“There were tons of cancellations industry-wide because of no snow. There were refunds, or not meeting clients’ needs or staff needs. We thought, ‘what can we do that will fit our clients needs for adrenaline-filled adventures?’

 “That largely contributed to the idea of what to do here.”

 Maloney is quick to point out that he’s not talking about setting up a race course in the subalpine. He says it will be more like a driving school, where professional drivers would train thrill-seekers (and professionals like police) how to drive a vehicle under extreme conditions.

“This is not a race track there are no plans to run a race, no plans for spectators, this is to be set up as a driving school,” he says. “We use the word ‘rally’ because we are working with Canadian Rally Car Association- this is the only one of its kind in Canada with a governing body, with a code of ethics and membership. It allowed us to work with them.”

Maloney says locals could also apply for membership to use the track, and get training in extreme driving. Operating for 2.5 months in the summer and four months in the winter, he says it will be a unique facility in BC- and provide up to 10 full-time jobs.

With the nearest residence 17 kilometres away, Maloney doesn’t see how noise would be an issue. And he says they’ve hired environmental scientists to identify and offer strategies to mitigate any impact on wildlife the operation may have.

But people like Kivi say it’s “completely inappropriate” for the area.

“This is a rich wildlife area, and it’s also an area used extensively by locals for a range of activities, including hiking the Bonnington Traverse, skiing, berry-picking, firewood gathering, and hunting,” she says.

“There are deer and elk in the area, grizzly bears and grizzly bear denning sites, wolverines and wolverine denning sites, huckleberry and other wild plants.”

While no humans might be disturbed, she says the noise from the vehicles will carry far in the mountains, affecting wildlife and people who hunt for them.

She’s also concerned about trucks hauling fuel up the logging road to the Snowwater site.

“All we have to say is ‘Lemon Creek’ to know what is possible on those kinds of roads,” she says. “A section of that road is highly unstable, Kalesnikoff [Lumber] is trying to do remediation on that portion of the road, it still keeps slumping.

“It’s a high hazard for road to fail. If road fails with truck on it, we have another ecological disaster.”

Kivi also feels locals haven’t been consulted enough about the plan, including First Nations who may have an interest in land use in the area.

“The community has no idea this is even in the works,” she says, adding that she first met Maloney when he launched the heli-ski operation two decades ago. “We talked about our concerns then, about the impact of noise and other issues, and he was very clear he would restrict his activities to the winter, and that he would keep away from Bonnington Traverse.

“So he’s going back on his word with this proposal.”

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources is accepting comments on the proposal until June 23.  Kivi says she’s encouraging locals to let the ministry know how they feel about the project.

“So basically we need to let the government know this is not just inappropriate, but a ludicrous proposal for this location,” she says.

But Maloney disagrees, saying the impact of this operation is minimal, and the benefits solid.

“Our feeling is it’s a good fit for where we are,” he says. “There’s two provincial parks nearby with no motorized use summer or winter, and a permanent cabin in the area built for public motorized use.

“We think it’s a good fit for the current direction that the Ministry of Forests has been going in.”