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SLRD board opposes Garibaldi at Squamish

Implores province to not award an environmental certificate to proposed resort

Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) is fast losing friends in the Sea to Sky corridor.

First the District of Squamish council unanimously rejected the proposed ski resort that would ultimately see 22,500 bed units on a development just outside the community - more than the population of Squamish itself.

Now the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) has added its voice to the fray, passing a motion at its Monday meeting that implored provincial authorities not to award GAS an environmental certificate.

The past week was the last that the public had to comment on the project as part of an environmental assessment process administered by the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), a joint institution between the provincial and federal governments. It is the second public comment period that the project has gone through.

In a damning motion that passed unanimously the board, which has representatives from Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish and Britannia Beach, cited an "absence of information" upon which to assess the resort's impacts on factors such as water storage, fish habitat, geotechnical issues and its lack of consistency with the Regional Growth Strategy.

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, who represents the resort community on the regional board, made impassioned appeals for directors to support a motion that would encourage the government not to award it an environmental certificate.

"(The) main points for Whistler to oppose the project are lack of information of socioeconomic analysis, wildly optimistic assumptions about where the ski industry is going, but it also fails to take into account that there has not been a new, successful international ski resort in North America and the most recent one failed," he said.

"The skiing demographic is getting older, so the bubble that was bursting on the ski development scene is about to burst."

Squamish Councillor Doug Race, who attended the meeting as an alternate for Mayor Greg Gardner, went a few steps further and criticized the infrastructure that will be required for the resort to get its water from the Brohm River.

A synopsis of the project by the Environmental Assessment Office predicted that the resort would require five large, open water storage reservoirs and dams that would cover 18 hectares in order to supply water for drinking as well as irrigation, firefighting and snowmaking purposes.

"The proposal indicates they will take water out of the Brohm River during the freshet season," Race said.

"That will require three, 50-metre high dams and a couple of smaller dams... that is 10 metres lower than the proposed Site C dam. These would be significant structures. The idea of them getting their water from behind a storage dam is not remarkable by itself, but clearly there are geotechnical issues and so forth."

Other facilities expected to come along with the development include power transmission structures linking the resort to the BC Hydro Cheekeye substation, waste management facilities, parking lots and an interchange with Highway 99.

The proponents have also proposed a variety of recreational facilities including a trail system that could service hikers, cyclists, skiers, equestrians and pedestrians.

Steve Olmstead, the SLRD's director of planning and development, said in a staff report that water supply, environmental issues and employee housing remained big issues for the district despite the proponents addressing them over two years ago.

The SLRD report went on to say that there wasn't enough information for B.C.'s Ministry of Environment to assess the impacts of the project on fish populations in the Brohm River. Beyond that there were concerns that each one of the dams could require environmental assessments of their own.

George McKay, a spokesman for Garibaldi at Squamish, called the resolution a "pretty comprehensive statement" but added it's just one of many responses that the project will get via the public input process mandated by the Environmental Asssessment Office.

"We're waiting to see what other responses are going to be made," he said. "This is clearly one of those responses, as was the resolution by the District of Squamish, but this one seems to be more comprehensive."