ski areas 

By Bob Barnett Moe Sihota has been talking about streamlining the process for development of new ski areas since his re-appointment to cabinet last fall, but a couple of ski area proponents have yet to see anything tangible. "I hear his announcements on the radio and read them in the newspaper but I haven’t heard one word myself," said Al Raine, who has been attempting to develop the Cayoosh ski area since 1990. "We met with Moe prior to his re-appointment to cabinet," said Garibaldi Alpen principle Wolfgang Richter. "We’re delighted he’s been appointed, but what it all means I haven’t a clue." Sihota, who was appointed to cabinet in October with a loosely defined mandate to get the economy rolling again, has been quoted in several newspaper and radio stories as saying ski area development is something that the province should be encouraging. He has repeatedly expressed his disappointment that it currently takes longer to approve a new ski area than it did to win the Second World War. Both Raine and Richter say the government’s public support for ski area development is important. Richter, who last month received a letter of support from Premier Glen Clark, said "unless we have support like this, and follow through, we may as well forget it. Unless there’s strong support from the government, no businessman is going to stick around." But Raine says he’s not convinced the government’s rhetoric is going to be followed through at the bureaucratic level. "I’d like to be pleasantly surprised, but in my experience the bureaucrats have almost shown contempt for the politicians." Raine cited a letter he received from an official in the water rights branch of the Ministry of Environment just prior to Christmas. The letter writer suggested that there wasn’t sufficient water in the Cayoosh area for Raine’s development. "But what he was really saying was that B.C. Hydro owns all the water rights in the area," Raine said. "Hydro says the amount of water we’re talking about is not significant, but then the province says Hydro can’t allocate water rights. "They’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem." Raine says his engineer met with the water rights branch to outline the resort’s proposal and the ministry representative didn’t raise any concerns. Then he received the letter "saying in effect, ‘you’re a liar.’" "If there was any willingness to help they would have phoned before writing a letter like this," Raine said. "You read this and your guts start churning. I went from a super high to a super low." In a previous cabinet life, as Minister of Environment, Sihota brought in the Environmental Assessment Act, which some have blamed for holding up approval of new ski areas. Bob Miles, vice president of administration and project development for Garibaldi Alpen, said the current system seems to "want all the answers before they need them. "We say, ‘can you make some commitments before all the answers are in place, while we work on the answers?’" Raine says he’s heard rumours of the government amending the EA process for ski areas. He thinks the process is acceptable, "but 90 per cent of the people invited to the table don’t have the business background, they can’t put their concerns in the context of the whole project," Raine said. "They’re totally focused on their area of expertise." Raine has also been asked by the province to address the various First Nations’ claims to the Cayoosh area. He has refused, saying that’s an issue the provincial government has to deal with. "The province has been more aggressive in the last month and a half, meeting with bands and pushing to get an independent tribal council assessment of the project," he said. "The EA office is pushing for it. I’m still cautiously optimistic." But that optimism is with the government’s involvement. As for bureaucracy... "Based on the letter I received, I think they’re more intransigent than ever."

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