Are Squamish residents letting their thirst for anything that has the potential to boost the local economy blind them to potential pitfalls that might be associated with the proposed Sea to Sky Gondola? Maybe, maybe not, but as a result of the recent coverage about the project in the Lower Mainland media, it’s a possibility we have to consider.
For the first eight-or-so months of its life in the public eye, the gondola — which would transport guests from a former gravel pit just off Highway 99 to the top of a ridge leading to Mount Habrich and Sky Pilot — has sailed through the public input and approval processes. It has already received the blessing of the District of Squamish and is halfway through the rezoning and Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment process with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD). It also still has to pass muster with B.C. Parks and with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.
The reception the project has received so far is a credit to the proponents and their efforts to present their plans to anyone who’s interested and their willingness to make changes to the proposal to accommodate the concerns raised. Their decision to re-orient the route slightly to the south is one example of that. The fact that they launched their proposal — whether by luck or design — when economic development was the hottest hot-button issue in town has also weighed in their favour.
Environmental concerns have been raised. Some wonder whether a marked increase in the amount of pedestrian and bike traffic around the top station will also increase the pressure on, and potential for conflict with, megafauna such as bears and cougars. But really, those voices were muted until those from outside the Squamish area became aware of the project, specifically of the plan to “reclassify” a one-kilometre-long, 20-metre-wide swath from the park to allow for the gondola towers.
Most of the voices that have weighed in on the issue recently are from outside our area, and it’s tempting to dismiss them as being out of touch with the needs and desires of Squamish-area residents. However, Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls provincial parks are part of the natural heritage of every British Columbian, not just those living within a certain proximity.
Like it or not, their voices matter, too, and this is not about majority rules. To some extent, this writer has to agree with the Sierra Club’s George Heyman’s contention that reclassifying land from a Class A provincial park is not a something to be done capriciously. Is it a show stopper? This writer would hope not, as it seems like a win-win on most fronts. But more public consultation and careful consideration are clearly needed before the project gets the provincial seal of approval.
— David Burke