B.C. government to issue park-use permit for Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish
The B.C. Ministry of Environment served notice last week that it intends to issue a park-use permit for the Sea to Sky Gondola project. According to advertisements placed in Squamish and Whistler newspapers, the permit will allow “commercial gondola” activity in the Stawamus Chief Protected Area.
That’s the 2.36-hectare strip of land that the B.C. Liberal government removed from the Class A provincial park on June 22. The passage of Bill 49 on May 31 set the stage for the park-boundary change, for which Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation applied in December 2011.
The Ministry of Environment didn’t make a representative available for an interview. According to ministry staff, the Squamish Nation and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation were consulted about the park-use permit.
Sea to Sky’s principals also declined to comment until the permit is in place. The company has previously stated that it aims to start construction this fall and open the gondola in summer 2013.
The gondola would not ascend the Stawamus Chief itself, but would rise 848 metres from a base between the Chief and Shannon Falls to the wooded ridge northwest of Mount Habrich. Sea to Sky also has plans to build hiking trails in and around Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.
The Ministry of Environment’s decision to issue a park-use permit for the gondola is a blow to Friends of the Squamish Chief, a group which formed in April to fight the project.
On August 9, FOSC filed a complaint with the B.C. ombudsperson claiming that the process leading to the changing of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park’s boundaries was unfair to the public. FOSC had asked the ministry to hold off on issuing a park-use permit, as the group’s complaint remains in the hands of the ombudsperson’s office.
In an August 28 letter to the ombudsperson, FOSC organizer Anders Ourom argues that the ministry failed to comply with the Provincial Protected Area Boundary Adjustment Policy, Process and Guidelines, and didn’t fully inform the public about Sea to Sky’s park-amendment proposal. Ourom—who sat on both the study team that recommended the creation of the Stawamus Chief park and the citizens’ advisory committee that helped draw up the park’s management plan in the 1990s—maintains that the consultation process was primarily controlled by the proponent and the ministry didn’t carry out an “independent, transparent public review” of the application.
FOSC wants B.C. Parks to redo the park-adjustment process for the Chief park and hold its own public meetings in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and Squamish. As part of an “amended process”, the group would have B.C. Parks post all project documentation on its website and publicly report the conclusions of its review.
“The Ministry ought to know what is required by its own policies, natural justice, and procedural fairness,” Ourom wrote. “Having designed a flawed process, the Ministry will have to live with the consequences. It may inconvenience the Proponent, or put it to additional expense, but its proposed investment must have a 20 to 50 year time frame, or more.”
In a statement provided by communications officer Suntanu Dalal, the Ministry of Environment said it is “satisfied” that it fulfilled the requirements of B.C.’s park-boundary-adjustment policy.
Earlier this year, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the District of Squamish approved rezonings for the gondola’s upper and lower terminals, which lie outside the park. On June 11, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations authorized the granting of tenure over 81.6 hectares of Crown land to Sea to Sky for the top-terminal area.