Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) backers are hoping for at least a conditional environmental approval before the May 2013 provincial election, the man who, for the past three decades, has led the charge on the four-season resort proposal said this week.
Wolfgang Richter on Monday (Nov. 19) said the developers plan to tap into a “big aquifer” in the Paradise Valley to address at least some of the water-related concerns that have been raised about the proposal.
GAS has been out of the spotlight since June 2010, when B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) ordered the environmental certification process for the project put on hold pending receipt of more complete information.
A meeting to discuss the project is planned on Thursday (Nov. 22) at the Squamish Adventure Centre. The presentation, scheduled to last three hours, aims to serve as an update “informal update… about the project and the current status of the environmental assessment process,” an online meeting notice stated.
The GAS proposal has been in the public eye off and on in its various forms for the past several decades. At its heart is a proposed ski resort on Brohm Ridge, along the boundary with Garibaldi Provincial Park.
The 1997 GAS proposal put forward by Richter included a 2,580-hectare footprint, on which the proponents planned to build 13,000 bed units (both overnight accommodation and single- and multi-family housing units) and a daily skier capacity of 12,000.
A more recent proposal envisioned a four-season resort on 3,238 hectares of Crown land with almost 22,000 bed units of accommodation — about two-thirds the size of Whistler — two golf courses and a ski area with 25 lifts.
In 2010, then-Environment Minister Barry Penner announced that the EAO had put the environmental certification process for the project on hold pending receipt of additional information on the project's potential adverse environmental impacts. That decision was made jointly by Penner and Kevin Krueger, then B.C.'s minister off tourism, arts and culture. Impact on the area's watercourses was cited as a key area of concern.
At the time, the proponents were given until June 2013 to supply the requested information.
“I have a particular concern around the potential impact to fish and other aquatic species in Brohm Creek,” Penner said at the time. “Minister Krueger also expressed specific concerns about public safety given that a number of dams were proposed above some of the residential facilities.”
Many of the concerns raised about the project have been related to its impacts on water resources — both on the limited supply of water in the creeks (Brohm, Culliton) that drain the area and the impact that development could have on fisheries in those and other nearby streams.
On Monday, though, Richter said he thinks the project can have minimal impact on fisheries and that water-supply issues can be at least partly resolved by piping water uphill from the Paradise Valley.
“All the water we need for the resort is in the water table down in Paradise Valley… there's a big water aquifer down there and it can be pumped up,” he said.
Edith Tobe, a local aquatic ecologist, said the she'll be interested to see what new information emerges about those issues.
For all the precipitation the Squamish area receives, the annual snowpack on Brohm Ridge “underwhelms as far as far as ski resorts go,” Tobe said.
Three or four years ago, when she reviewed the proponents' reports about the available water resources, “There wasn't even enough information in the reports to comment on,” Tobe said.
While she's not against a modest ski resort in that location per se, local residents should be concerned about the most recent proposal's potential impact on the environment and on community infrastructure, she said.
“The original proposal, I think, the town supported it, because I think the town could relate to having a town ski hill… but once you start talking about four-season resorts, there's all the impacts that you get on all the watercourses including Cat Lake and Brohm Lake.
“Brohm Creek is the No. 1 steelhead creek in this area, so at the end of the day we need to know what they're planning to do that way and what those impacts are.”
Before the B.C. government put the certification process on hold, both the District of Squamish council of the day and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board had voiced opposition to the project in its most recent form.
Richter said that while the environmental and master development planning processes are run by the B.C. government, Squamish residents will be the ones that drive the project forward — or not. Despite concerns that have been raised, he thinks there's broad support for the project in the community.
The investors in the project — including Vancouver-based businessmen Bob Gaglardi and Luigi Aquilini — are the same ones that were backing GAS when it was last in the spotlight, he said.
“We have a community in need to economic development, and $5.5 billion on resort development will go quite a long way in that regard,” he said.
“If we're going to become a tourist destination, the town and the mountain have to be happily married,” Richter added. “You want to be in harmony with that town, and it's really hard to create if you have to create it from nothing. The benefit is that the town has everything to say about how this thing gets developed, and not one piece of wood will get cut for it until the town gives its OK through the zoning process.”
Admission to the meeting, slated to run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., is free, but those wishing to attend are asked to register by visiting garibaldiatsquamish.eventbrite.ca/
Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) is hosting a meeting on Thursday (Nov. 22) at the Squamish Adventure Centre. The presentation aims to update people about the project. Reporter Rebecca Aldous will be tweeting live from the event. Check in with The Chief for live coverage or follow #GarSquamish on Tweeter.