Snowmaking, new facilities for Olympics questioned by Friends of Cypress 

Plans to introduce snow-making machines, clear land, and put in more facilities on Cypress to host some of the events for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are worrying some environmentalists.

"Personally, I have any number of questions about this," said Katharine Steig of the Friends of Cypress Provincial Park Society.

"The whole thing has to be thoroughly and publicly aired so that everyone understands what is happening before it is a done deal."

The Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Bid Corporation has been looking for several months to determine the best location to host the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events should they win the right to host the Winter Games. The international Olympic Committee will decide next year who will win the 2010 Games.

Cypress was chosen because it has a paved three-lane highway to the top, and is close to Vancouver.

But to host the Games the facility must be able to make snow. To make snow there must be available water either from creeks or from a reservoir which would have to be constructed within the bounds of the provincial park.

Steig is concerned that the noise of the equipment will disturb the environment, the water use may affect the community water supply and the use of such equipment is not within the framework of sustainability.

She also questions the use of public money to pay for such equipment.

"I noticed that it would be the Olympic Bid Committee that would be paying for the snowmaking," said Steig.

"We the public paid for the sewer and water development (at Cypress) and now we are talking about more facilities. If this is considered one of the community benefits I would say personally and very, very strongly that this is not in my view a benefit to this park."

Environmental and hydrology studies are under way by the Bid Corporation, said spokesperson Michelle Penz.

Matthew Broadbent, spokesman for Cypress said: "The process is being driven by the Olympic Bid themselves."

"We are fully aware of what the impacts could be, or at least what the process needs to be, in order to ensure that we minimize or accept any of the impacts and I know that that process is under way, but it is too early to predict the outcome."

West Vancouver Councillor Bill Soprovich, who supports bringing the Games to Vancouver and Whistler, said there has been some discussion between the Bid Corporation and council.

But, he added, "...There is a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of careful work for the environment.

"When you get the spark of an Olympics people say let’s get going and let’s do something and to hell with the environment and that is wrong.

"My feeling about things is that we want things to be successful. But the biggest thing that could happen here is to showcase not only B.C., but showcase that mountain and not just with a display of the events like snowboarding but... with the finest of environmental techniques available."

It’s likely a portion of second-growth forest would also be cleared to make a new run and a small chair would be built to service the new run for the 2010 Games.

Some have described this second-growth area as unused. But Steig, of the Friends of Cypress Provincial Park, begs to differ with that description.

"When (it's) mentioned that the area on Black Mountain is not being used for anything my thoughts are that re-growth trees are on it, wildlife is there. I wouldn’t say it is not being used for anything. It is holding the slope up and providing bird and wildlife habitat as best it can."

A 1997 study completed by UTSB Research in Banff, Alberta, has found some disturbing effects on habitat resulting from the development of ski terrain.

There is soil erosion from tree clearing, road building and slope alteration and this can harm water quality.

Wildlife can be displaced as their habitat is cleared and natural animal corridors can be severed or restricted as a result of bottlenecks created by cleared runs or base area facilities.

Snowmaking has it’s own set of dangers for the environment, states the report, authored by Stephen Legault.

"(It) is harmful to aquatic ecosystems, soil stability and vegetation structure.

"By extending the shoulder season use of ski area facilities, snow-making displaces wildlife that might otherwise be found in the area in the spring. A longer ski season extends the period of noise and other disturbances into the spring."

One of the most harmful impacts associated with snowmaking is water withdrawal. Some resorts, states the report, withdraw enough water to impact seriously the in-stream flow of its water source creeks.

Artificial snow is also much more dense and has a higher water content than natural snow. As a result it turns to ice much faster.

The increase in water content often results in soil saturation during the spring run-off.


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