Sea to Sky Gondola open house draws 70 

Proponents happy with support for the project, opponents disappointed with turnout

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A Sea to Sky Gondola open house drew 70 people to Britannia Beach on April 19, with the majority responding favorably to the project.

The proposed site for the gondola is between two provincial parks off the Sea to Sky Highway south of Squamish — Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls Provincial Parks. If the project secures approval up to 300,000 tourists per year are expected to visit the gondola to see its panoramic views of Howe Sound and visit its proposed restaurant, theatre and trails.

David Greenfield of the Sea to Sky Gondola Corporation said 54 people spoke at the event, with over 40 of them being in favour of the project.

"It was a great turnout," he said. "It was a clear indication of public support for the project."

He said those in support represented a broad base of the community, including climbers, members of environmental groups the Streamkeepers and the Squamish Environment Society, as well as local business owners. This didn't surprise him.

"We've been out in the public now since June last year and had over 100 meetings; met with literally every community and interest group there is in the area. We've improved the project as a result of some of those presentations."

He acknowledged the project's opponents, but said they were a vocal minority.

"Just in the last month there was, quite frankly, a lot of misrepresentation... and this was a kind of vindication that the public would show their support. It shows that we are being true to what we are proposing," Greenfield said.

Theresa Negreiff of Friends of the Squamish Chief (FOSC) said it was disappointing that more people with concerns about the gondola failed to attend the meeting.

"I can see from letters to the editor and messages on blogs there is opposition out there, but unfortunately they did not participate (at the open house), though the SLRD did acknowledge that about 20 wrote letters in advance," she said in an email.

The organization has listed its concerns with the gondola project on the FOSC web site, www.freindsofthesquamishchief.wordpress.com. The group believes the gondola doesn't fit in an already heavily used and highly visible park area.

FOSC also believes public opinion about the gondola proposal should be sought by BC Parks before the agency makes a decision on reclassifying Class A parkland. This is because of a request by the proponents to build the gondola lines and supporting towers through current Stawamus Chief provincial park land; the land would be removed from the park itself.

Negreiff said FOSC encouraged the public to give their views, and hoped the process would be inclusive and transparent but without a BC Parks hearing she feared that would not happen.

"The decision to waive a BC Parks hearing and the covenant that was intended to prevent a gondola on the park are issues I feel should be addressed before any more decisions are made or permits are issued," she said.

Greenfield said the next step for the project is that it will continue through the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) process in seeking approval to cover the top terminus section of the gondola. The bottom of the gondola and parking lot is in the District of Squamish, which has already passed full rezoning approvals.

The SLRD is expected to vote on third reading of the bylaws in May.

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