The Squamish Nation has rejected the amended plans for a gondola project in Squamish and in doing so, sent a message to potential investors eyeing the Sea to Sky corridor prior to the Olympics.
The rejection of this proposal will also raise some questions about Water, Land and Air Protections environmental assessment process because several members of the Squamish community and the proponents have both argued that allowing more community involvement would have simplified the process.
But it was the Squamish Nation that effectively stopped the gondola project when it forwarded a letter last week to the two proponents, Paul Mathews and Peter Alder, as well as the Mayor of Squamish and Premier Gordon Campbells office.
Alder said the letter was signed by Chief Gibby Jacob and demonstrated that the Squamish Nation was unanimously opposed to any gondola project, whether on the Stawamus Chief or parallel to Shannon Falls.
History has proved that First Nations approval for major developments is a necessary step even if a proposal receives environmental approval.
The Squamish Nations position may be seen by some as another deterrent to investment in the province. Because of First Nations opposition the proposed Cayoosh Resort, in an area north-east of Whistler, has been dormant since receiving an environmental assessment certificate several years ago. The Garibaldi at Squamish resort proposal has been tied up in courts for months until a judge recently determined that the Squamish Nation must be further consulted before the project can proceed. And the proposed Jumbo Creek Resort in the Kootenays recently received environmental approval, but some First Nations are believed to be opposed to the project.
The Squamish gondola decision comes at a time when the provincial government is trying to encourage investment in resorts and has challenged the tourism industry to double in size by 2015.
It also raises the issue of the treaty process in B.C. which, despite more than a decade of work and millions of dollars, has yet to produce a modern treaty.
The gondola Alder and Mathews were proposing was expected to be a major tourist attraction as well as a way of opening some of Squamishs backcountry to mountain bikers and skiers.
Alder said the Squamish Nation stated in their letter that they were opposed to the project because the area has great natural importance to their people.
"It says that the chief and council considered the material supplied by the minister and the proponents in the Sept. 28 meeting," Alder said, reading from the Squamish Nations letter.
Alder read on: "We (the Squamish Nation) have discussed the information with the Squamish Nation elders and the Squamish Nation is unanimously opposed to a gondola on the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls.
"Both these areas have great natural importance to our people and the community and operation of a gondola would be highly invasive and would desecrate the tranquility of the area."
Alder and Mathews have dedicated about a year of their time and resources to this project, which Alder said would equate to around $70,000 worth of expenses.
They were working on an alternative site for the gondola, parallel to Shannon Falls, after the Squamish council ruled that they would support a gondola but not on the Stawamus Chief.
But after receiving the letter from the Squamish Nation, Alder said it made no sense to pursue any options for a gondola.
"We have very diligently worked at an alternate proposal, which would have been technically much more difficult," he said.
"We had several council meetings with the mayor in Squamish and we heard that the bikers and climbers were being very supportive.
"But when you get a letter like this from these Indians you have problems.
"This is a very great disappointment for us and we might as well not fight the uphill battle against a political agenda."
Alder said he would have liked to consult with the community more about this proposal and was critical of some people working at LWBC for "confusing the process".
"The senior people in Victoria have been absolutely supportive of this project and helpful.
"But the middle management are still not thinking in todays terms, theyre using the old fashioned ways to process things and that buggered up a lot of things."
Alder and Mathews still have an option on the land at the base of Shannon Falls, where the base terminal for the proposed gondola would have been located, but that option expires on Dec. 6.
"Which means we would have to put up big money to buy it after that, so if something happens between now and the 6 th were going to have to think doubly hard about what wed do," said Alder.
Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland conceded he was disappointed that the process had been stopped but he was confident there would be other gondola proposals.
"Clearly, overall the community does support the idea of a gondola and what it could do to open up skiing and biking opportunities and also some sightseeing opportunities," said Sutherland.
"And certainly from our point of view there were some advantages to the Shannon Falls idea, but there are other locations in the community that could be equally as good or even better than Shannon Falls.
"This one didnt work out at this time, but thats not to say that it wont happen in the future."
Megan Olesky, the "Friends of the Chief" spokesperson who opposed the gondola proposal on the Stawamus Chief, said she was surprised by what had happened but confirmed her organization had a "neutral" position on the development.
"We had heard rumours there would be a second proposal but we hadnt seen it and we didnt feel like we had a right to react until we had seen it," said Olesky.
The Squamish Nation did not return the Piques phone call or e-mails.