Squamish residents speak out against Sea to Sky Gondola proposal

Friends of the Squamish Chief calls for public hearing on Stawamus Chief Provincial Park boundary change

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      Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation says support for its plans to build a sightseeing gondola near the Stawamus Chief is “growing steadily”.

      But some Squamish residents are making it known that opposition to the company’s application to change the boundaries of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park does exist in their community.

      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”.

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      Another concerned Squamish resident

      Apr 18, 2012 at 1:18am

      As a Squamish resident, I, too, oppose the gondola. I agree with my neighbours who have raised concerns about the project's impacts to the environment and wildlife. Opening up backcountry areas to more people is a recipe for disaster for wild animals. Fortunately, there seem to be more and more people in our community speaking out against this wretched development.

      Malcolm Wright

      Apr 18, 2012 at 6:35am

      Who came up with this ridiculous project? It must NOT be built.

      Kerry Brown

      Apr 18, 2012 at 8:17am

      Full disclosure: I am a resident of Squamish and I support the Sea to Sky Gondola proposal. I support comments with people's names. It's hard to have an open discussion when you don't know who you're talking to. I support BC Parks having an open, transparent process on reclassifying a small area of an existing park. I don't believe that the strip in question will be removed from the park. From what I have read the area will be reclassified, not removed. In any case I support BC Parks consulting with the public first.

      Other than Brian Vincent's concerns for wildlife most of the opposition seems to be from people that want to keep this area for themselves and exclude those who are somehow not worthy of it. I have heard that if you can't get up to this area under your own steam you shouldn't be allowed here. This area is riddled with old logging roads. It is already accessed by bikes, both motorised and pedal. In the winter it is accessed by snowmobilers. I have spent much of my life hiking the mountains around Squamish. I am reaching an age where at some point in the future I won't be able to do this anymore. The gondola will allow me to continue, albeit in a limited fashion, to access the backcountry as I age. It will allow city residents who can't or for whatever reason don't want to spend the time to hike into the mountains to experience a little bit of the splendour of nature. I say a little bit because as beautiful as this area is it is not currently in it's natural state. It was clear cut within living memory. It has already been deeply impacted by human endeavor. What better place is there to teach our children about the wonders of nature than in a semi-natural environment? In order to protect the large areas of wilderness that need to be set aside to truly protect BC's backcountry we have to have some areas where people are allowed. I believe this area which has already been impacted and is near a large urban area is perfect for this.

      Another consideration is the economic impact this will have on Squamish and the surrounding communities. These communities have been hard hit by economic change. Unemployment is very high. Like many municipalities the infrastructure is crumbling but the industrial and commercial tax base that previously funded a lot of the infrastructure has disappeared. Most residents of Squamish do not want to return to an industrial, resource based economy. We are looking for ways to create a sustainable economy with minimal impact on the environment. Projects like the Sea to Sky Gondola will help us regain a needed commercial tax base while helping to avoid a return to an industrial, resource based economy.


      Apr 18, 2012 at 9:52am

      And, since we'll shortly have a university at Whistler, we surely must have a Skytrain to provide transportation to all of those wealthy off-shore students, while our domestics struggle to scrape together enough for their tuition fees at Hamburger U.

      Jesse Thompson

      Apr 18, 2012 at 9:55am

      I live and work in Squamish and don't want the gondola built. It will ruin the beauty of the Chief and harm the environment. I don't know anyone in Squamish who supports this thing.

      Theresa Negreiff

      Apr 18, 2012 at 10:48am

      If you care about whether this proposal goes ahead or not, please attend the Squamish Lillooet Regional District public hearing tomorrow, April 19 at 7 pm. It will be held at the Britannia Beach Community Centre in Britannia Beach.

      Everyone attending will be allowed to speak if they want to and this is your only opportunity to go on public record to show support or opposition, unless we can demand BC Parks host a public hearing.

      For more information on why some feel this project shouldn't happen and info on where you can also send letters, visit www.friendsofthesquamishchief.wordpress.com

      Theresa Negreiff

      Apr 18, 2012 at 11:06am

      Also for those unclear on the language around removing park land for this project, the BC Parks own website states (my caps for emphasis):

      BC Parks website (http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/bound_adj_policy.html )

      “Periodically, within provincial parks, land uses are proposed involving activities that are not permissible under the Park Act. The Minister of Environment will consider such proposals where the public interest may warrant modifying park boundaries to REMOVE THE AFFECTED AREA from the park.”

      BC Parks own guidelines state they should be offering a public hearing to address these boundary changes but they have waived a public hearing for this project, a decision that might fortell a disturbing trend to bypass public input on decisions affecting public lands. You can write Minister Terry Lake to request a hearing at env.minister@gov.bc.ca.


      Apr 18, 2012 at 11:50am

      Good comments, Kerry Brown. I agree that Squamish needs innovative projects to create employment. I'm not convinced, though, about this particular project. Tourism really doesn't create many well-paying jobs, not like resource extraction or manufacturing can. Squamish should consider ways to create low-impact industries instead which could support more people. And there are enough other local mountains to place a gondola than through an established park. I agree that the park already experiences significant human impact; but that doesn't mean we might as well increase the impact. Protected areas will always be eyed by profit seekers. There aren't enough protected lands as it stands. When BC Parks allows businesses in parks they set a dangerous precedent, when profit becomes more important than protection.

      Paul Kubik

      Apr 18, 2012 at 12:52pm

      I'm largely in agreement with Cityzen. But if a gondola is needed put it up Alice Ridge instead. It would top out around 4000 feet. The ridge is almost flat for two kilometers and from there you can access Little Diamond Head by a trail. Even better views from the top, IMO, than the proposed Habrich top station. No one's using the ridge for recreation at the moment except the odd mountain biker and backcountry skier. It would make for a nice loop trail to connect with Diamond Head Road. I'm not convinced we need a gondola up Shannon Falls or the Chief.

      Amy Young

      Apr 18, 2012 at 1:14pm

      I am a Squamish local - been here for 15 years. I climb and hike in the area and believe the gondola would be a big mistake for our town. There have been serious questions raised about the impacts of the development that no one has answered. What will happen to wildlife once hordes of hikers, tourists, and mountain bikers start showing up in the backcountry? Don't the developers realize conflicts between bears and people are bound to happen? Please, Squamish, let's band together to defeat this!