Nordic centre concerns pour out at public hearing 

Backcountry operators, environmentalists question scope of rezoning plans

Some Sea to Sky residents want the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Games to go back to the drawing board with its plans for the $110 million Nordic centre.

"In the interest of long-term legacy let’s not rush into this," said Doug O’Mara, owner of Whistler Heli-Skiing and a supporter of the 2010 Games.

The concerns were raised at a packed Squamish-Lillooet Regional District public hearing Monday on zoning amendments which would allow the Nordic Centre and future recreation facilities to be built.

"I suggest the SLRD direct VANOC to go back and give it one more try," said O’Mara referring to the development plans for the 262-hectare site of the Callaghan valley facility. Development is due to begin this summer.

Brad Sills, part owner of Callaghan Country, an exclusive backcountry adventure lodge and activity operation, also voiced concerns over the plan. He has had a recreation tenure over 90 per cent of the area slated to be used for the Nordic facilities since 1985.

"The real concern here is that they don’t have any land," said Sills. "All the land that they have is ours and I am concerned they are just going to expropriate it."

Sills is a long time supporter of the Games and identified the Callaghan as a prime location for the Nordic facility when the bid to host the Winter Olympics first got underway. Now he is worried that VANOC is not following through on statements it made to ensure that local businesses get economic opportunities through the event.

"VANOC has a duty to live up to its commitments as put forward to the community at the beginning and those were that they would promote a healthy economy," he said.

Sills made a lengthy presentation, which was interrupted several times with hearty applause. He wants to see Bylaw 908 amended so that it includes no reference to any activities beyond those needed to host the Games.

"RV campgrounds, snow tube parks and skating rinks are incidental to the overall operation and can be added at a later date once the planning criteria is more evident," said Sills.

He would also like to see a working group of government officials and stakeholders put in place to advise on governance issues and make recommendations to the SLRD.

Sills also wants the SLRD to revisit two bylaws brought before it by Callaghan Country in 2002 to allow development in the Alexander Falls area. The bylaws had successfully gone through the public process but were shelved after concerns were raised by the Squamish First Nation that the development would negatively impact the wilderness character of the Callaghan.

In arguing for the SLRD to revisit his request for development Sills said: "The SLRD can no longer lend credibility to a claim that a small backcountry lodge operation will affect the wilderness character of the Callaghan Valley when the claimant has endorsed a development located just two hundred yards away which will see a three lane paved highway and facilities to accommodate up to 50,000 people."

Others in the audience of close to 100 people were concerned that the Nordic centre, which will host ski jumping, biathlon, cross country and Nordic combined events, will impact the environment too much.

"There is an enormous amount of pressure on the wilderness in the world and here we are on the frontlines of it," said local ecologist Bob Brett. "The question here is are we going to leave things better off than before?"

Brett said he accepts that there is no way to stop the facility from being built but he would like to see the zoning forbid motorized vehicles, such as ATVs, and he would like to see all legacy trails stay away from old growth forests.

The SLRD rezoning bylaw would also allow for other recreational facilities within the competition footprint, such as a tubing park and lift, and outdoor skating rink, hut-to-hut ski touring, hiking facilities, a 100-room lodge, a 100-space RV and campsite and the associated water and sewage facilities needed to service the area.

VANOC officials did attend the meeting but made the decision that they were there to only listen to the community’s concerns only.

"We made a decision to listen to concerns," said VANOC spokeswoman Maureen Douglas. "We have had extensive consultations with the public through both the environmental assessment and the SLRD process in a series of open houses when we heard a number of different views.

"It is all part of moving forward to the best legacy plan we can bring together. That is our goal and all the input helps strengthen our plan."

The SLRD will next consider the bylaws May 19.

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