District of Squamish council are concerned by the lack of public consultation by the proponent of an independent run-of-river project that skirts municipal boundaries and that could impact mountain bike trails in the Ring Creek Rip area with new roads and power lines.
The district was given until Oct. 23 to respond to a request from the Ministry of Forests for feedback on the Skookum Clean Energy Project on the upper Mamquam River. Municipal staff did ask the ministry for an extension to consult with the community but were denied.
At Tuesday's council meeting, staff showed council a letter outlining the district's opposition to the plan. Council requested changes to the letter to let the province know that they would support the plan if they were granted an extension to comment, and if the proponent would consult with the community and address potential impacts on recreation.
Memories of the Ashlu run-of-river project, approved by the province despite opposition within the district, were still fresh in council's mind.
Councillor Bryan Raiser wondered whether the district would lose an opportunity to work with the proponent if they came out against the development.
"I'm concerned that if we say no to this it's going to happen anyway and we're going to lose any bargaining power," he said.
Councillor Corinne Lonsdale said that was a real outcome.
"We've seen this happen to us before with the Ashlu, where the province might move forward and approve it regardless," she said. "We were very opposed to the previous one and it did no good. I wonder if it would have gone better if we worked with them."
On the plus side, the facility will create construction jobs and boost the economy for roughly two years until it's built, and could create one or two permanent jobs in the community after the build. The power plant is currently outside district boundaries, but if Squamish is granted a boundary expansion then they also stand to benefit in the future from hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenues.
There's also an environmental case for the project, which would generate 25 megawatts of clean power each year, which is enough to power 8,500 homes.
While there was concern about the power lines and impact on trails, most councillors were more upset that a project could have so much impact but be perceived as having few opportunities for residents to voice their concerns to the proponents.
"From a community view, there are some significant negative impacts to this community as a result of the hydro lines... and negative for a lot of other reasons," said Mayor Greg Gardner. "The hydro lines go through a very high value recreation area along the Ring Creek Rip, and it does have an impact on our quality of life here, in our opinion. This is not a logging operation where the trees will grow back, it's a permanent infringement on these areas."
Gardner said he did meet with representatives from proponent Sea to Sky Power, and was disappointed that the company did not have any ideas about how to mitigate the impacts on the community nor was it flexible. He was also surprised that council's request for an extension was denied.
Council voted unanimously to send the letter in opposition to the project as well as conditions for their support.
Gondola project gets first two readings
The proposed Sea to Sky Gondola cleared its first major hurdle on Tuesday when District of Squamish council approved first and second readings of an Official Community Plan amendment, a zoning bylaw for the gondola station area and a public hearing to take place on Nov. 8 regarding the OCP and bylaw changes.
The gondola would be staged from a lot zoned as industrial that sits between Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls provincial parks. Most recently the lot was used by Kiewit to store fuel and machinery during the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project.
Groundeffects Development Ltd. is anxious to get started on the project, but made it a priority to proceed with zoning with the District of Squamish before tackling other approvals they'll need from various government ministries and agencies. The gondola towers would need approvals from B.C. Parks and the top staging area for hiking, biking, backcountry skiing and other activities is on Crown land.
The gondola would start just above sea level and terminate at an altitude of almost 900 metres on Mount Habrich. The top offers views of the Chief and Howe Sound, as well as access to Mount Habrich, Sky Pilot Mountain and Goat Ridge, and proponents are expecting 250,000 to 300,000 visitors per year in the beginning.
The only part of the application that district council and staff have been opposed to were plans to later build a visitor centre with a full restaurant and retail space, which they were concerned would compete with other Squamish businesses - and eliminate the need for those passing through to visit the downtown area. As a result, the size of restaurant and retail space was limited.
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