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Nordic Centre moves ahead, commercial legacies still under review

Regional district approves Olympic development; lodge and campground to be considered separately

Commercial activities slated to go in the Callaghan Valley after the 2010 Olympic Games have been put on the backburner for the time being.

This means the future of a proposed 100-room lodge and a 100-space RV/campsite is up in the air.

But while the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District backed off on approval of the so-called legacy facilities, they gave their unanimous blessing to the bylaws that allow development of the Whistler Nordic Centre in the Callaghan. This will be the site of the cross-country, biathlon and ski jumping competitions during the 2010 Games. The bylaws also allow certain commercial winter and summer recreation activities, such as a snow play area, tube park and lift, and an outdoor skating rink.

The SLRD board has asked the Vancouver Organizing Committee to continue to work with the community on the future of the Callaghan Valley and potential commercial legacies there.

"We’re happy with the approval that the board’s provided us with and we’re going to continue to work with them in the coming months," said George Mackay, VANOC’s director of environmental approvals, who was at the SLRD meeting in Pemberton last Thursday to hear the decision.

The board’s decision follows a public hearing in Whistler in April where members of the public asked for more detailed information about the lodge and campsite in the Callaghan, among other things.

SLRD planners admitted in their report to the board that "many of the uses proposed in the zoning application by VANOC do not have the level of detail normally submitted in the rezoning process."

"We really don’t know much about these commercial uses," Planner Susan Stratis told the board on Thursday.

She explained that the approved bylaws, which delete the lodge and campsite, will allow the Olympic development to move forward while giving VANOC more time to consult with the community and develop a business plan for the Nordic centre.

"I don’t want this to be construed as the regional district not supporting commercial use at all," Stratis told the board. "We would like VANOC to come forward with more information…."

To accommodate this, regional district planners moved the lodge and campground into a separate bylaw, which was given first reading last Thursday, and will be considered by the board at a later date.

Mackay could not say when VANOC would come back to the board with more information about the lodge and campground. VANOC is now in discussions with the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations about potential recreational facilities and trails in the Callaghan. Both nations claim the land as shared traditional territory.

For Brad Sills, co-owner/operator of Callaghan Country, a backcountry tour company with a lodge in the area, the board’s decision was welcome news.

"I’m certainly very glad to see there’s been some sober second thought on what the vision for the Callaghan is," he said.

Sills said he is not necessarily against a lodge and campsite in the Callaghan but there just needs to be more information and more public consultation.

"We certainly need to know the location of it, what the service provision is for it, what the rationale is for it…" he said. "There’s certainly a need for more intensive commercial and public backcountry recreation and I think this is an opportunity for us to explore this but it has to be done within the context of an established public process."

The public hearing in April also highlighted concerns from some community members that the Nordic centre did not meet VANOC’s pledge for a sustainable Games. Some called for all development in the area to be temporary and for everything to be removed after the Games.

SLRD staff, however, said because the Environmental Assessment certificate was issued, along with commitments to monitor construction, site restoration and environmental practices, they didn’t see any reason to change the bylaws.

VANOC and the EA office will have public meetings next month in the corridor communities to provide further information about the environmental commitments, on-site monitoring and best practices during the site development and operations stages of the 2010 Olympics.