On December 20, 1993, the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) announced conditional approval to Vacation Alberta Corporation for construction of recreational and tourism facilities in the West Castle Valley near Pincher Creek. The decision required modifications to reduce the project's environmental impact including the designation of a wildland recreation area for public lands north of Waterton Lakes National Park.
The proposal included:
- ski facilities on Haig Ridge and Gravenstafel Ridge with a combined capacity of 3,200 skiers per day;
- two 18-hole golf courses;
- accommodation for up to 2,500 people, including two hotels, eight chateaux containing 192 apartment units, 12 villas containing 48 stacked townhouse units, 12 chalets containing 48 four-plex units, 72 RV parking spaces, 24 staff housing units, maintenance buildings, and access roads.
The application by Vacation Alberta Corporation was considered at a hearing from June 21 to July 19, 1993, at Pincher Creek, according to the mandate set out in the NRCB Act. The Board reviewed all of the evidence presented at the hearing.
The proposed project would create jobs and enhance the quality of life in southern Alberta by increasing recreation opportunities for the region as a whole.
It would also complement an economic development strategy for the area as a centre for tourism and recreation. Other tourism-based components, such as interpretive centres, outfitting and guiding, hunting, and angling were already making a contribution to the area's economy. With an environmentally sustainable management strategy, the area had potential for year-round tourism.
The concentration of up to 2,500 people in the West Castle Valley, however, could over time further degrade the environment of the area, and its value as a tourism resource. For this reason, the Board's decision required certain changes to the project as proposed. These modifications would mitigate adverse impacts on the area's ecosystem, and ensure that the environment would be able to sustain the demands made on it and continue to provide opportunity into the future.
The modifications required the golf courses and the accommodation facilities be confined to the west side of the West Castle River. The two golf courses would be located at least 400 metres downstream from a wetland area that was situated immediately north of the ski hill.
In addition, the Board proposed new controls and a new management system for land use in the region. Approval of the project was conditional on the designation of the public lands south of the Carbondale River as a special area for wildland recreation purposes. The Board suggested this area be called the Waterton-Castle Wildland Recreation Area, and be designated for three different uses: 0.6 per cent as a Resort Area; 7.0 per cent as a Recreation Zone; and the remaining 92.4 per cent as a Wildland Zone, surrounding the other two.
The Alberta Lieutenant in Council first authorized the decision and later rescinded authorization.