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RCMP reviewing Callaghan Valley dispute, again

Powder Mountain Resorts hopes investigation will uncover past conflicts of interest, revive ski resort plans

The proponents of Powder Mountain Resorts got a boost last week with confirmation that the RCMP is reviewing the facts of their case with an eye toward reopening an investigation into how their resort proposal was quashed 20 years ago.

Several other recreation tenures in the Callaghan Valley — site of the Nordic Centre for 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games — have since been awarded.

Business in Vancouver magazine reported the newest developments last week, and according to Nan Hartwick — who co-owns Powder Mountain Resorts with daughter Dianne — the possibility of a new investigation was welcome news.

“This is the third time that the RCMP have taken up this investigation, but this time, because of all the terrible conflicts of interest everywhere, we think this is something that should move ahead,” she said. “We went through three different public proposal calls until we won the third one clearly. Now our lawyer is joining us for a meeting with the new provincial ombudsman to give him our information, and all the proven details. We haven’t spent 20-some-odd years for nothing.”

At the heart of the Hartwicks’ complaint is the province’s decision to award development rights to Callaghan Resorts in 1987, two years after Powder Mountain Resorts was the sole company to answer a request for proposal process to develop the area. According to Nan Hartwick the Forest Minister was about to approve their application when it was quashed by cabinet.

The province said they quashed the Powder Mountain proposal over doubts that the Hartwicks had sufficient financial backing, which Hartwick says was not the case. At the time they had more than 75 investors behind them, all of which continue to back Powder Mountain to this day.

Instead, the Hartwicks allege that cronyism was at play, and that then-Premier Bill Vander Zalm intervened on behalf of a friend who was involved in Callaghan Resorts.

What has followed is more than 20 years of legal wrangling, lawsuits and appeals that have so far been unsuccessful. During that period the province has issued several land use tenures in the Callaghan Valley — including Callaghan Country, Powder Mountain Catskiing and Canadian Snowmobile Adventures — and aided in the establishment of the Whistler Nordic Centre as a venue for the 2010 Games. All of it is illegal, according to Nan Hartwick, who asserts that Powder Mountain had an agreement in principle with the province.

“It’s very important to repeat that we are not against the Olympics,” she said. “We do think it’s important for taxpayers to know that we never did ask for any government money, and we could have saved millions of dollars that were spent illegally in the Lower Callaghan Valley. We had the rights from the government, in documentation, to develop the entire valley, and still hold those rights.”

Hartwick believes that her resort could have hosted some of the Nordic events on privately funded facilities, or that the events could have been hosted far more easily at Cypress Mountain.

She says the review will reveal that some of the same people who were involved in quashing her proposal in the 1980s are currently involved in the development of the Callaghan.

If they can prove that conflict of interest as well as allegations of cronyism, Hartwick believes it will be a short leap to have the Powder Mountain Resorts’ proposal for the area reinstated.

“We don’t need another lawsuit, it’s the commercial crime group of the RCMP that’s working on this investigation,” said Hartwick. “They’re going over everything, the entire history and everything that has happened. We’re counting on them to be able to prove what we know and have known for many, many years.”

A previous criminal investigation by the RCMP was closed in 2000, shortly after the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed a lawsuit for $5 million against Callaghan Resorts and others the Hartwicks allege were behind the decision to quash their resort proposal. Following the lost appeal, they applied to have their case heard at the Supreme Court of Canada — a process that is still ongoing.

Hartwick said the RCMP’s decision to re-open the case is based on new evidence of conflict of interest.