Public input on G@S closed 

Environmental assessment report due in early May

Last week marked the end of public input on the Garibaldi at Squamish (G@S) development proposal, which is currently before the province’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).

The input period wrapped up on April 4. Though it was held up for a few months, it comprised a total of 180 days. Next, officials at EAO will prepare a report by May 8 for their elected superiors, who then have 45 days to deliberate on a ruling. A full certificate could be issued, as could one that calls for increased assessment, a scenario that may or may not involve further public input.

While around in various incarnations since the 1970s, G@S — which now proposes 25 ski lifts, two golf courses and thousands of residential units stretching some nine kilometers north of Cat Lake — has been intensely controversial, with relentless opposition coming from such organizations as the Save Garibaldi Group (SGG) and the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society (SECS).

“We will continue researching the impacts of the proposal and continue disseminating our findings to the community,” said Jessica Reid of SGG. “Our biggest issue really is the impacts have not been accounted for in the proposal as it stands right now.”

Michael R. Esler, CEO and president of Garibaldi at Squamish, is confident the process will result in a green light. “As far as this process, the environmental assessment process, there don’t appear to be any showstoppers. We fully expect to have a conditional environmental assessment certificate by the third week in June.”

West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Joan McIntyre said both activist groups have been vocal at her offices in Victoria and West Vancouver.

“Even if this project did at some point receive approval at the provincial level, ultimately it’s a local decision,” she said. “The local community — the region or the District of Squamish — would have to give approval.”

While the area proposed for the resort development does not currently fall within District of Squamish boundaries, McIntyre said Squamish would have to expand its borders in the event of approval from the EAO and the province’s approval of a Master Plan.

“And believe me,” she continued, “in both those processes, there are very strict guidelines that have to be met. Should it pass through those stages, (the land) would have to be rezoned, and that’s why the local government is at the end of this process.”

Reid acknowledged this, saying it’s a major motivator in her group’s ongoing research.

“If the people of Squamish are to make this decision, then they need to be informed,” she said. “I’m actually not worried. According to my research into the labour shortages and the economic realities of building this resort based on the topography of the area, from a business perspective, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense.”

As the public input deadline drew nearer, SGG and SECS hosted a series of information sessions and fundraisers aimed at exposing the proposal as poorly planned and environmentally disastrous, more of a real estate-based cash grab than a sustainable ski resort.

“I’ve seen those comments before,” Esler said. “We’re investing approximately $250 million in ski area amenities. These would be the lifts, the runs, the roads, the power, etc. Now that doesn’t include all the roadways, the infrastructure, the sewage and things of that nature. It’s a very significant part of the overall capital costs. It’s roughly a quarter. So for someone to suggest it’s a real estate deal with a ski resort attached is ridiculous.”

Further, Esler said, today’s ski resorts require substantial real estate components to be financially viable. To that end, he continued, they need year-round magnetism, which is where the golf courses come into play.

The most recent activist symposium was held at the Brackendale Art Gallery on April 3. It drew on a local geologist and former G@S employee, as well as other speakers who presented research on watershed, wildlife, employment and other impacts they say the proposed development would have.

Esler refuted these claims, as well. In regards to the labour pool, which SECS and SGG say is non-existent, Esler said the Lower Mainland offers significant human resources. To boot, the project will offer Squamish a major employer the likes of which haven’t been seen since the mills closed down, taking with them a sizeable chunk of the district’s tax base.

McIntyre, meanwhile, encouraged all stakeholders to connect with local government. She also moved to dispel fears that the province’s plan to double tourism by 2015 will bring about knee-jerk approvals of resort proposals.

“Yes, we have that goal,” she said. “But it’s not at any expense. These projects have to be in the right place. And they have to be the right project.”


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