The Future of Howe Sound Society drew boaters to a floating rally at the north end of Gambier Island to raise awareness about the proposed developments along the Sea to Sky corridor, including timber harvesting, a waste-to-energy plant, a gravel crushing facility and an LNG loading terminal.
Speakers told attendees that these types of industries are not a good fit for the Howe Sound, an area treasured for its natural beauty. They said that BC and Canada have invested tens of millions of dollars into attracting tourists to the region through the Squamish Visitors Centre, the new gondola near the Chief and the upgrades made to the highway to Whistler.
"What are tourists from around the world going to see when they arrive?" Ruth Simons, organizer for the Future of Howe Sound Society, asked me on the boat ride over to Thornborough Channel. "These spectacular views , or gravel plants, clear cuts and supertankers?"
Jan Hagedorn, Trustee for Gambier Island, said that she remembers the days when boaters used to float out into the bays to dump their garbage.
"Thankfully, people learned about the damage they were doing. And over the past 50 years, our conservation efforts have paid off." Hagedorn said that government reports demonstrate that health of the marine ecosystem is better than it has ever been - which makes it a mystery to her why they would be proposing developments that put the health of people and animals at risk.
"With all these proposed developments from the BC government - whether its LNG, timber farms, gravel facilities or waste-to-energy plants - we risk losing all the great work we've accomplished," she said.
Brenda Broughton, mayor of Lions Bay, told crowds that while many places are special, the Howe Sound region is truly unique, drawing visitors from around the world. "New York has Central Park, Chicago has its waterfront and Toronto has rebuilding its beachfront. But none of these locations have Howe Sound."
Broughton said that communities in the region need to work together to come up with a development plan that respects the wishes of its constituents and protects the environment as well. "It is possible, and we are willing to work with anyone and everyone who wishes to engage. But we need a comprehensive plan."
Simons said that the BC government admits it doesn't have a plan for the region. "That's why we're here today to send a message: if you work with us, we can develop a plan that will meet everyone's needs. We are not against industry, we are not against jobs...but we reject the idea that any development can go ahead piecemeal without any sort of a plan for the future."
A former accountant with a PhD in chemistry, Eoin Finn said developments like LNG are not only damaging for tourists - they are dangerous for residents.
"Do you have any idea what would happen if one of those supertankers ran aground in stormy seas here? The incineration radius is more than a kilometre. All those people driving along the Sea to Sky highway, residents of Lions Bay, Horseshoe Bay, not to mention the folks in Vancouver, they would be at risk."
Finn said British Columbia's boom-and-bust cycle has to stop sometime. "We've been stripping out natural resources as fast as we can for more than a century...and I'd like to hope we've learned a thing or two about sustainability," he says, shaking his head.
"This is the wrong direction for BC to go. Look around at these mountains, forests, oceans. This view alone earns more money than LNG will ever bring in.
"It doesn't make any sense."