The backers of a proposed all-season resort on Brohm Ridge are looking to tap into Paradise Valley's groundwater.
After a two-year hiatus, a project slated to be approximately two-thirds the size of Whistler running along the Garibaldi Provincial Park boundary is crawling forward.
Garibaldi at Squamish is the same plan as the one the public last saw in 2010, but with a new water source, project founder Wolfgang Richter said this week.
In June 2010, the proposal, which includes approximately 22,000 bed units of accommodation and a 25 lift ski area, hit a snag. B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) ordered the environmental certification process for the development be put on hold pending receipt of more complete information.
The focus of the request was water, Richter said. Original plans would have tapped into Brohm Creek, a plan that would have seen resort builders back fill eight reservoirs for snowmaking and tap water. The idea was challenged, more specifically regarding fish habitat, Richter noted.
This time around, Garibaldi at Squamish proponents decided to research well water, said Chris Gillham, the project's infrastructure consultant. Geotechnical and hydrogeological consulting engineers, Piteau Associates, conducted a study in May 2011. Proponents are examining drawing water up to the mountain from an aquifer beside the Cheakamus River. The Piteau study concluded the volume of water needed for the development is available at several sites near Paradise Valley Road.
“[The report stated] there was a 95 per cent probability that the flow we were looking to obtain was achievable without impacting the river and valley,” Gillham told The Chief. The next step is to test the theory. Over the next few weeks, three 120-foot-deep test wells will be drilled on a site approximately 250 metres north of the Tenderfoot Hatchery. 72-hour tests will be conducted during the low flow season — late summer and late January-early February.
At that point the pumps will draw 70 litres of water per second from the wells, the amount deemed necessary for Garibaldi at Squamish at maximum buildout. Water levels will be monitored for any changes, Gillham said, noting the consultants expect the flow volume of the Cheakamus River to drop 1.2 per cent.
“We did look earlier at closer locations, but their yield isn't enough,” he said, noting the deadline to provide the study's information to the EAO is June 2013.
The aquifer being eyed by Garibaldi at Squamish is across the way from a fish spawning creek, Squamish environmental watchdog John Buchanan said. Swift Creek dries up at the best of times, he said. As a member of the Squamish Streamkeepers, Buchanan said he's no stranger to aiding stranded fish in that area.
“We need to know the plans of where they are going to discharge the water,” he added.
Buchanan questioned the idea's feasibility. Pumping water up a mountain will take a huge amount of energy and cash, he said.
Besides the water issues, the development amounts to urban sprawl and the ski resort will draw skiers away from Whistler, Buchanan said.
Richter disagrees. The magic word is “clustering,” he said, noting the resort can focus on becoming “boutique.” More slopes will bring more people to the Sea to Sky Corridor, Richter said, noting it's all a part of the provincial government's Commercial Alpine Ski Policy, which aids viable ski resort proposals by handing backers land for a nominal fee.
Although there are savings on the land, building infrastructure on a rocky mountain is not cheap, Richter said. The project's four-year-old estimate on the overall bill is $5.5 billion, he said.
“Before we even get up there we have to build a six-mile road,” Richter said. “That kind of infrastructure costs a lot of money.”
It's important for Squamish residents to understand this is just one step in a very long process, Garibaldi at Squamish board director Janice Brown told people at a project update meeting last Thursday (Nov. 22) at the Adventure Centre.
In 1998, the proponents hired MarkTrend Research to compile a study on the community's thoughts regarding the proposal. Ninety per cent of Squamish residents and 85 per cent of Whistler residents supported the project, Brown said.
Just as the original plan has evolved — 4,000 acres adjacent to Highway 99 has been added to the 1996 request — so too has the industrial fabric of Squamish, she said, adding that the community no longer has a significant resource extraction industry.
“We truly have become a bedroom community of both Vancouver and Whistler,” Brown said.
Garibaldi at Squamish can help turn that around, she said. The proponents have always been committed to developing a competitive, high-quality project with an international draw, Brown said.
“We suggest that the Garibaldi at Squamish project is an economic engine and, as it was viewed in the past, has the potential of becoming an ideal strategic partnership for the future economic development of Squamish,” she said.