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Supreme Court Justice rules on ski resort near Squamish

After more than a decade of planning and litigation, Supreme Court Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg delivered a judgement last week on the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort that should result in a final decision on the resort early in 2005.

Koenigsberg was ruling on a case between Land and Water BC, resort proponents Bob Gaglardi and Luigi Aquilini, and the Squamish Nation.

Plans and ownership of the proposal have changed since the idea for a resort was first tabled in the early 1990s and the Squamish Nation was contending that they had not been properly consulted.

Justice Koenigsberg agreed that the Squamish Nation must be further consulted before B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office, or EAO, could approve the project, but she also put a time line on the process for consultation.

December 31 is the deadline the EAO has set for LWBC and the proponents to deliver a final environmental assessment application.

LWBC has been in court with this proposal because it is the responsibility of LWBC and the EAO to decide whether a project proceeds once it has been lodged.

Koenigsberg’s timeline is over 85 days and if it is followed then the proponent’s environmental application will be submitted to the EAO exactly on the Dec. 31 deadline.

Both the Squamish Nation and the proponents say they’re happy with Koenigsberg’s ruling, but only time will tell if it’s going to result in a final decision on the resort.

There are several things that can still derail this resort proposal.

The Squamish Nation, for instance, after being consulted might dismiss the project altogether or the proponents might contend that the Squamish Nation’s demands are too great and quash the proposal.

Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said it was too early to tell what his council would recommend, but he was glad the proponents had been forced to do further consultation.

"We wanted to make the point that consultation is essential and these people have a legal duty to be fulfilled," said Jacobs.

"There’s a time for doing it is at hand but it could have been avoided, they never listened to us from the get-go."

Garibaldi at Squamish project director Mike Esler said the Squamish Nation had been consulted, but the developers simply "ran out time" to do the survey work on the ground with the Squamish Nation.

"We couldn’t mobilize on the site to do, for example, archaeological impact assessments because you have to get on the ground with the Squamish Nations’ representative and there just wasn’t time to do all that," said Esler.

"And then we lost all of last summer because of the litigation."

Jacobs said the area where the resort is proposed, on Brohm Ridge about 10 minute north of Squamish, is important to the Squamish Nation for several reasons.

"It’s historical and our people continue to practise cultural things as they have for thousands of years.

"This is not going to be something that can be viewed as getting around easily."

If the Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort is approved then it will be in line with the B.C. government’s initiative to expand the tourism industry, but Chief Jacobs wasn’t sure it would be a viable resort.

"In our neck of the woods we’ve got Whistler and my understanding is that they produce an awful a lot of money for the province," he said.

"Then down in Vancouver we’ve got Seymour, Grouse and Cypress mountains.

"So we’ve got four ski hills in our traditional territory – you do the math – how many resorts do we need around here to satisfy the recreational needs of the people who permeate those hills?"

Despite all the litigation, Esler said he welcomed this consultation process and confirmed that the proponents have been "ready to go" since last April when they filed their environmental assessment.

"At least we now have a time line to deal with this because there’s no question we’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern," he said.

"Just for clarity the EAO documents were filed a year and a half ago but there was a number of missing components, which were all weather related and almost all of them related to First Nations.

"So that process has just got to get going here but notwithstanding that, the majority of the EA submission has been made and it met the specific terms of reference (set out by LWBC).

"So our EA wouldn’t be a new one, it’s more a question of modifying it."

If LWBC, the proponents and the Squamish Nation stick to the time line and agree on a solution developers could break ground on Brohm Ridge in about a year.