Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation says support for its plans to build a sightseeing gondola near the Stawamus Chief is “growing steadily”.
Sean Easton and Derek Alexander Christ are two of the project’s local critics. Both climbers, they are organizers of Friends of the Squamish Chief, an ad hoc group that recently formed to fight the gondola project and its proposal to remove a 2.36-hectare strip of land from the Chief park.
A mountain guide who lives in Squamish’s Valleycliffe neighbourhood, Easton was part of a volunteer group of climbers that helped B.C Parks develop the rock-climbing strategy for the Chief, Shannon Falls, and Murrin provincial parks in the late 1990s. From the back deck of his home, he can look up at the Sheriff’s Badge and North Walls of the Chief.
On the phone from Whistler, Easton noted that the Chief park was established 15 years ago next to the older Shannon Falls park.
“It’s my impression that when you make a park you’re trying to save an area from commercial and industrial infrastructure,” Easton told the Georgia Straight. “So to propose that a mechanical transport system be built right through the centre of these two parks is a significant concern.”
FOSC is calling on B.C. Parks to hold a public hearing on the park-boundary-adjustment proposal, which requires the approval of the environment minister, cabinet, and the legislature. This week, B.C. Parks posted a notice of the application on the Chief park’s website, directing visitors to Sea to Sky’s site for further information.
B.C. Parks is relying on Sea to Sky to consult stakeholders about the project. Sea to Sky added information about the boundary-adjustment proposal to its website on March 15, the same day the Straight reported the company had applied in December to remove land from the Chief park. On April 5, Sea to Sky principal David Greenfield told the Straight that B.C. Parks staff have recommended approval of the park amendment.
“Without some measure of public participation, public consultation, especially in light of the importance of that ecological, natural asset—the Chief—to the Lower Mainland, I can’t believe that they [B.C. Parks] would contemplate a process that doesn’t involve the broader public or Squamish residents,” FOSC's Christ, a lawyer who also resides in Valleycliffe, told the Straight by phone from Vancouver. “It just makes no sense. They’re really trying to squeak it in under the radar, as it were.”
While the Sea to Sky Gondola would run through the Chief park—though not up the Chief itself—both its planned lower and upper terminals lie outside the park. The base property is located along the Sea-to-Sky Highway between the Chief and Shannon Falls, and the top would sit on Crown land on the wooded ridge northwest of Mount Habrich.
District of Squamish council has already approved the rezoning for the base property, and the project has been endorsed by the Squamish Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association, Tourism Squamish, and Squamish Trails Society.
“To date, the positive encouragement and support of the project has been growing steadily,” Sea to Sky’s Stage 2 park-adjustment application, dated February 15, states. “The proponents have strong indications from all levels of the BC Government that this is a project of particular interest.”
On March 26, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board of directors gave second reading to rezoning and official-community-plan-amendment bylaws needed for the gondola’s upper terminal. FOSC organizers plan to speak at the SLRD’s public hearing on the proposed changes, which is scheduled to take place at the Britannia Beach Community Centre on Thursday (April 19), starting at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, Brian Vincent, another Squamish resident, is raising concerns about the gondola project’s potential impact on wildlife. On April 12, the animal-rights activist sent a letter to B.C. premier Christy Clark, SLRD chair Susan Gimse, and several other politicians urging them to oppose the “ill-conceived” proposal.
“Opening up backcountry areas to a flood of visitors will undoubtedly create conflicts between humans and wildlife,” Vincent wrote. “Unfortunately, bears and cougars usually pay a fatal price in such circumstances.”
In its park-adjustment application, Sea to Sky predicts the negative environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the gondola will be “largely moderate and short term”.