Cautious optimism about gondola in Squamish

The Sea to Sky Gondola is a proposed gondola that will go up between Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief (known as The Chief) Provincial Parks. The project dismays hikers, and pits a small group of vocal opponents in the community against the enthusiastic support of many residents, business owners, the Squamish Nation and city councillors.

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Zephyr Cafe owner and Squamish resident Colleen Myers. Photo by Kathleen Kozak.

Myers, who also sits on the board of directors for the Squamish Arts Council, said that she wants to see downtown Squamish flourish with greater urban density as a result of the gondola's economic benefits. Her one hesitation, she said, was the precedent the gondola was setting for taking land out of provincial park lands.

"Once you set the precedent for anything you can't take it back," she said. "I'm hoping that there's enough community consultation and they jump through enough hoops. They have to prove to enough people that it's win-win."

Small but vocal group decry province selling park lands, unaccountability to public

However, the Friends of the Squamish Chief maintain that the BC government has hit a new low in public accountability for commercial development of provincial park lands with its approval of the gondola.

"This is a provincial park, and that means to me we're all stakeholders in these parks," FOSC member Theresa Negrieff told The Vancouver Observer. "I think there's a failure of democracy when people don't have their voices heard."

A gondola next to The Chief was one of the reasons Negrieff moved out of Squamish in October after six years. Now a Victoria resident, she said she did not feel the proponents of the Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. properly represented the concerns of the entire community in its reports to the government, and that the government failed to properly inform and be accountable to all British Columbians in its assessment of the gondola.

Negrieff said that even the official Sea to Sky Gondola Corp.'s website stated early on in the process that BC Parks would have a hearing, but this was later removed.

"I had a chance to speak with the developers directly and said that I'm not in favour of the project," she said. "But when I saw the submission to the Environment Minister and there was no mention of any opposition I thought, 'Well are there other people like me who actually said that they're not in favour and just don't have a voice in this?' Because the developers aren't mentioning the fact that there was some opposition."

"It's like everyone was in favour and I'm sure there were people like me who told them that the project won't happen, but we weren't named in the document."

The empty lot between Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief where the Sea to Sky Gondola base will be constructed. Photo by Kathleen Kozak.

According to the Provincial Protected Area Boundary Adjustment Policy, Process and Guidelines in effect since March 2010, the BC government gives the proponent of commercial projects the responsibility to consult with local community, First Nations, and other stakeholders and file reports in two phases. 
 
The BC Ministry of Environment maintains that it and the Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. followed due process.
 
"To date, the Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation has undertaken significant public, local government and stakeholder consultation regarding the gondola proposal, including more than 80 meetings and community open houses," wrote Ministry spokesperson Stuart Bertrand.
 
"The Ministry of Environment is satisfied that the requirements of the Provincial Protected Area Boundary Adjustment Policy, Process and Guidelines were adhered to in the review of the proposal to adjust the boundaries of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park." 

Jayson Faulkner of Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. also countered the FOSC's claims.

"There are not too many other projects that are as complex and that have to have every duck in a row," he said. "But we've dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't'."

However, Negrieff said that FOSC will continue its fight against the gondola.
 

In August the group appealed to the province's ombudsman to force the province to take a second review of a commercial development that they argue has implications far beyond Squamish.

"It was our park, but next time if could be your park in Fernie, or your park in Nelson. It could happen anywhere, it's left to the developer to manage, steer and edit the proposal however they want.
 
"How is that a fair process?"

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