Sea to Sky Gondola proposal riles former B.C. environment minister

John Cashore blasts application to remove land from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in Squamish

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      Former B.C. environment minister John Cashore remembers the “beautiful day” back in 1995 when he got to announce the creation of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.

      At the time, Cashore was the province’s minister of aboriginal affairs, and he joined with then–environment minister Moe Sihota to deliver the news in Squamish.

      Seventeen years later, Cashore is speaking out against a private-sector proposal to remove land from the Class A park for a sightseeing gondola. The former NDP MLA believes the proposal, under consideration by the B.C. Liberal government, goes against the park’s management plan and doesn’t deserve a “snowball’s chance” of approval.

      “I am absolutely opposed to it,” Cashore told the Georgia Straight by phone from his home in Coquitlam. “It is not necessary. It is not going to fulfill a purpose that overrides the purpose of the original protection.”

      In March, the Straight reported that Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation applied in December to take 2.36 hectares out of the 526-hectare park. The Squamish-based company plans to erect seven of 15 gondola towers and log 364 to 597 cubic metres of timber in the 20-metre-wide, 1.18-kilometre-long corridor, which would be redesignated as a protected area under the Environment and Land Use Act. The proposed gondola would cut through the park from a base between the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls to the wooded ridge northwest of Mount Habrich.

      Earlier this month, Sea to Sky principal David Greenfield told the Straight that B.C. Parks staff have recommended the park-boundary adjustment go ahead. The company is hoping Environment Minister Terry Lake, the cabinet, and the legislative assembly will approve the change by the end of the spring legislative session on May 31 so construction can begin in September.

      According to Joan McIntyre, the B.C. Liberal MLA for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky, the gondola is a “worthy project” that has garnered “widespread support” due to the economic and tourism activity it promises. Although she wouldn’t say how she will vote if the park amendment goes to the legislature, McIntyre pointed out that 9.7 hectares were added to the park last November to protect the Malamute climbing area.

      “So there’s a real plus for those who are concerned about a very small amount possibly being removed,” McIntyre told the Straight by phone from her constituency office in West Vancouver.

      Brandin Schultz, South Coast regional manager for B.C. Parks, maintains the proposed gondola corridor is “consistent” with the park’s management plan. The bureaucrat confirmed that B.C. Parks made a recommendation to the environment minister in March but said policy prevented him from commenting. Although B.C. Parks called for public feedback in 2008 on a failed proposal to remove land from Pinecone Burke Provincial Park for a power line, Schultz told the Straight there are no plans to do so for Sea to Sky’s application.

      “The onus is on the proponent to bring forward public consultation, First Nations support, where local government stands, and arrange all that and provide it to us,” Schultz said by phone from his North Vancouver office.

      B.C. NDP environment critic Rob Fleming argued the public deserves the opportunity to submit comments directly to B.C. Parks. On the phone from the parliament buildings, the Victoria–Swan Lake MLA told the Straight it’s “critically important” that B.C. Parks act as an independent advocate for the provincial park system.

      “If and when this proposal hits the floor of the legislature in the form of a bill, legislators from all over the province are going to have to rely on information that has been carefully gathered and considered by B.C. Parks as to whether this would be an acceptable change,” Fleming said. “My concern is that so far B.C. Parks has been missing in action.”

      According to Jane Sterk, land shouldn’t be taken out of provincial parks for commercial ventures. The Green Party of B.C. leader called B.C. Parks’ reliance on Sea to Sky Gondola to gather public input “inexcusable”.

      “I think it’s just a confirming of a belief, maybe a direction of the B.C. Liberal government, that we need to approve private-industry activities,” Sterk told the Straight by phone from the Malahat Highway. “They don’t seem to have a belief that the public has a right to say things about these public spaces.”

      Tonight (April 19) at 7 p.m., the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District will hold a public hearing on the rezoning for the gondola’s top terminal. The SLRD board of directors is expected to consider giving the bylaws third reading on May 28.

      As environment minister, Cashore launched the Protected Areas Strategy in 1993. The Chief park arose from that policy—which doubled the size of B.C.’s protected areas to 12 percent of the province’s land base—and enjoys the highest level of protection available to provincial parks.

      Cashore agrees with environmentalists from the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club B.C. who have argued that removing land from the Chief park could put other parks at risk.

      “Ultimately, it could lead to the erosion of that fundamental value that lies behind the designation of a Class A park,” Cashore said.

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      Sea to Sky Guru

      Apr 19, 2012 at 10:07am

      Where the values and spirit of the park being reflected when over 2000 people climbed the trail in a single day?

      Are they present when fights occur as frustrated hikers blow their cool waiting to ascend or descend parts of the trail? This actually happens!

      This spirit must assist Search and Rescue teams as they stretcher off novice hikers who have fallen (while descending) every weekend during the summer months?

      The fact is the chief is a highly impacted area due to massive over crowding.

      The Sea to Sky Gondola will ultimately reduce the pressure on the chief, by giving novice hikers more choices and spreading out the load, significantly reduce over crowding.

      I don't understand why people think that the Gondola are going to limit access, allow widespread degradation of the area and show insensitivity to flora and fauna. Their success is vested in ensuring the areas wilderness values are protected and enhanced. Bringing people to the area to ride, hike, climb and enjoy the outdoors creates value. That value can then be used to expand current park boundaries and protect a much greater area forever!

      Vertical Racetrack

      Apr 19, 2012 at 10:22am

      @Sea to Sky Guru Much like the Grind, we all come to these places to escape pushy, impatient, coffee-guzzling-stress-cases who don't know when to slow down. You see them every weekend on the hills. If you're in a big rush, get back in your car, or your $3000 bike and go race on the road. This is our sanctuary not a vertical racetrack.
      Also a gondola on the Chief will cause the same problems the Grind has. Eco-tourists trying to drag their whole family, strollers, and picnics up the hill knowing they'll get a ride down. This will bring more inexperienced people on the mountain and more problems.

      Erik Frebold

      Apr 19, 2012 at 12:36pm

      1. What is a class A park designation for if we can just suspend it for projects such as this? Come to think of it, perhaps we need some golf courses and ski developments in Garibaldi Park too, since that land is such a *waste* of good real estate?

      2. Why split a park when alternative locations for a tram exist nearby? (if we need such a thing)

      3. How exactly does attracting more people to a small area make it less busy?

      4. I would like the details made public of how the proponent got around a covenant intended to prevent such proposals.

      5. The 9.7 ha Joan McIntyre cites as being added to the park for the Malemute is great and much needed, but this was unfortunately just after its previous owner clearcut the half of it most visible to the public, so whatever it protects, it's not the flora and fauna at this point, and the Malemute as habitat is isolated by a railway and a major highway, hardly a fair swap if such is McIntyre's claim.

      5. I find it incredible that the proponent's official response to opposition to the project is to claim surprise and attempt to label the considerable opposition as a crackpot minority. Surely a proponent who was truly interested in providing a sustainable community amenity would seriously consider the project impacts the opposition raises rather than just try to negate them on principle?

      Michael Feller

      Apr 19, 2012 at 1:31pm

      If sea-to-sky guru believes the construction of the gondola plus road and trails will reduce crowding he/she should think again. The net result would be greatly increased visitor numbers, even more crowding and frustration, and increased pressure on the Chief. If sea-to-sky guru disagrees, then where has greatly facilitated access to a backcountry area reduced visitation?

      Sea to Sky Guru

      Apr 19, 2012 at 1:33pm

      @erik freebold as far as point 1 and 5 goes...

      Ski hills in Garibaldi Park...? Have you heard of Whistler?

      With over 100 hundred community stakeholder meetings and information session completed (fact) this proponent has gone all out to engage, listen, adjust and modify their proposal. They have met with supporters and but more importantly opposition alike. As far as I know this level of engagement is unprecedented in BC.

      This will be a sustainable community amenity that will bring long term jobs, foster conservation and enhance recreational opportunities for all.

      Finally, where has the proponent labelled opposition as crack pot minorities...? I think you are inventing this label upon yourself and given the numbers of incorrect assumptions in your post, you make a fair point.

      Sea to Sky Guru

      Apr 19, 2012 at 2:06pm

      @michael feller - read the extensive trails proposal on the proponents web site... Of particular note is the massive amount of trail infrastructure that will be built as a result of this project.

      As I said, this is the opportunity to spread the load out and remove the over crowding in one area that exists right now.

      Erik Frebold

      Apr 20, 2012 at 11:10pm

      @S2SG: Re: Whistler-- not sure I understand your point. Are you claiming the ski area is in the park? Or are you saying because there's a ski area next to the park, the park's already developed so might as well put development in more parks? Or are you saying because the resort brings in $ that excuses the downside of development?

      Sorry if I offended by asking what seemed to be logical questions. The namecalling isn't necessary, and we've probably climbed, paddled, or ski'd together and I hope will again. Can you say how you benefit from the project? Note I haven't said whether I'm in favour of it or not, just that I'm not getting the answers I'd like. The proponent has expressed surprise and disappointment on official media channels that there is opposition occurring now, as if the claimed 100+ consultations should somehow have stopped the opposition by now. I think to stop opposition you have to deal with the objections, not negate them or try to spin them-- that just makes everybody grumpy.

      On S2SGC's website at the moment is an announcement that the latest meeting featured "overwhelming support" for the project, with "at least 75% of those present in favour." , and voices ringing out in support one after the other.
      Meeting attendance isn't a vote, and 75% isn't exactly overwhelming either. The proponent thanks supporters, pumps the positive, and doesn't address or acknowledge the objections in their statement. I don't like seeing this: it's too important an issue and I think all of us, for or against, lose if Squamish gets the wrong thing.

      Steve Berger

      Apr 21, 2012 at 4:44pm

      I oppose to the proposed Sea to Sky Gondola. I have hiked and climbed in both the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park and Shannon Falls Provincial Park for more than twenty years and believe that the experience of visitors to those parks would be severly degraded by the existence of the proposed Sea to Sky Gondola. I strongly oppose removing or reclassifying any portion of either or both of these provincial parks for any reason.

      I contributed to the effort by the Land Conservancy to purchase the gravel pit in 2004 and I’m disappointed that the developers and various levels of government are circumventing the covenant placed on that land, where the proposed base of the gondola would be.

      My reasons for opposing this proposal are that the gondola and its’ construction would damage a long swath of protected land, negatively impact hiking trails, detract from the experience of climbing and hiking in the two provincial parks and would spur ecological degradation of the terminal lands as a greatly increased number of people travel in the higher elevation regions.

      The Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls Parks are well-established, with hundreds of thousands of annual user-days already, and make a huge contribution to the culture and economy of the area. They should be kept intact for future generations to enjoy. This area has outstanding natural, scenic and recreational values. The priority should be protecting those values. I often take my young children to enjoy these parks. I ask that the province protects them, as they currently are, for tomorrow’s outdoor enthusiasts.

      If the project proceeds, and fails, who will clean up the mess that will likely be left behind? What financial guarantees would the developers provide? Think of the awful precedent set by removing protected park land to allow a commercial, mechanized development to intrude on previously protected natural lands.