The B.C. Ministry of Environment (MOE) is in the process of issuing a park-use permit to the proponents of the Sea to Sky Gondola, clearing the way for construction of the tourist attraction that will whisk guests up to a ridge next to the Stawamus Chief.
The move, confirmed by an MOE spokesperson in an email to The Chief on Tuesday (Oct. 16), comes in spite of the fact that a group opposed to the gondola has filed a complaint with the office of the B.C. Ombudsperson, claiming B.C. Parks did not provide sufficient input into the process of adjusting park boundaries and issuing the permit.
David Greenfield, one of the two principals of Sea to Sky Gondola Corp., said he, his business partner Trevor Dunn and general manager Jayson Faulkner were “ecstatic” to hear the permit was about to be issued.
“We understood this week that the permit was going to be issued,” Greenfield said. “We haven't been provided the final signed version of that, but if the Ministry is saying that they've issued the permit, it's obviously something they're comfortable with.”
Once construction does begin, it should take between 12 and 16 months to complete, he said. The proponents' original intent — which was to open the gondola in the summer of 2013 — is obviously not going to happen, Greenfield said.
The gondola is expected to attract some 300,000 guests a year and boost Squamish's tourism industry. The proposal was first made public in July 2011, but before being allowed to proceed, proponents had to receive rezoning from the District of Squamish for the base area, from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District for the top station and, because the gondola cables and towers are set to run through what had been a portion of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, a park boundary adjustment from MOE.
On Sept. 27, MOE officials issued a “notice of intent to issue park-use permits” in local newspapers. However, previous to that a group calling itself Friends of the Stawamus Chief filed a complaint with office of B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter, arguing that MOE/B.C. Parks officials had not provided sufficient opportunity for public input in the park-use permitting process.
Anders Ourum, a spokesperson for the group, on Oct. 9 said that after an initial review to ascertain whether the ombudsperson's office had jurisdiction to look into the complaint, an investigation into the group's claims was launched.
“I spoke to them today and they said they expect that it'll be several more weeks” before the probe is concluded, Ourum said.
Ourum said he didn't know whether the ombudsperson's office had the authority to order the permit application process to be redone. He also didn't know whether issuance of the permit might be delayed pending the release of the ombudsperson's report.
The role of the ombudsperson's office is “to impartially investigate [citizens'] complaints to determine whether public agencies have acted fairly and reasonably,” according to the office's website.
An ombudsperson's office spokesperson said she could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation into the matter was underway, nor could she say what possible outcomes might arise from the probe.
However, in an email sent on Wednesday (Oct. 17), Alexis Lang Lunn, an outreach officer at the ombudsperson's office, wrote, “An investigation by the Ombudsperson Office does not have the effect of delaying or halting other ongoing processes.”
The MOE spokesperson wrote that the ministry “is satisfied that the requirements of the Provincial Protected Area Boundary Adjustment Policy, Process and Guidelines were adhered to in the review of the proposal to adjust the boundaries of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. As such, the ministry has issued the park use permit for the proposed gondola development.”
He said ministry officials are aware of the complaint to the ombudsperson's office and that it would be “inappropriate for us to comment” while the complaint is under review.
“In this case,” he concluded, “B.C. Parks is proceeding with business as normal and the Ombudsperson process is not impacting the timeline.”
Greenfield said Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. officials “are not privy to discussions on the ombudsperson's office's process and don't have any comment on that.”