The recent approval of the gondola project, and start of construction, was a disappointment for all those who love the Stawamus Chief, and provincial parks. The decision resulted from a flawed process, and sets a dangerous precedent for development in parks. The project will have substantial impacts on a heavily used and hard-won park, and the land ripped from it is hardly an “adjustment.”
The proposal has never been independently and thoroughly scrutinized, or undergone any real public debate. There has been neither due process nor due diligence — which is largely the fault of the Ministry of Environment, which failed to do its job as guardian of provincial parks. The process was a charade, despite self-serving protestations to the contrary. Examples:
1. In 2005, The Land Conservancy of B.C. purchased the land at the base, and was asked to ensure it could never be used for a gondola or any other inappropriate development. The land was transferred to the promoters in 2012, with an inadequate conservation covenant. What happened, and why did TLC fail to do its job?
2. Such proposals are subject to the government’s “Provincial Protected Area Boundary Adjustment Policy,” which has not been complied with. The Elders Council for Parks in B.C., a respected independent body that includes those who wrote and formerly administered that policy, thoroughly reviewed the proposal. Major problems:
• The process was largely local, fragmented, and controlled by the promoters, leading to a predictable result. Similar processes in the past have been conducted by B.C. Parks, and involved thorough scrutiny and public meetings, to ensure that they are transparent, inclusive and impartial. When the park was created, there was extensive study by B.C. Parks, followed by public meetings in Vancouver and Squamish.
• Plausible locations outside the park weren’t examined. If there’s a location outside a park that would work, it must be used. A location from just north of Gonzales Creek to a knoll northeast of Petgill Lake wasn’t examined, and indeed seems superior in some ways.
• Parks didn’t do its job, although one can’t blame it for that, given that it has been gutted by the current government.
3. The proposal is contrary to the master plan for the park.
4. Failure to consult with existing user groups and those affected, in particular hikers and the public outside the Squamish area. Surveys by Friends of the Stawamus Chief showed that most hikers hadn’t heard of the proposal. The vast majority objected to it and the lack of process, and signed a petition, in person or online, to object. Over 1,000 total, with 15 to 20 per cent who live in the Squamish area. Why weren’t all those who have an interest in the Chief consulted? After all, it is a provincial park, belonging to us all.
These concerns were shared by many B.C. conservation and recreation organizations.
The project is likely to have fewer benefits and greater impacts than claimed, although that’s nothing new. There’s little commitment beyond building and operating a gondola, and it’s unlikely to benefit the park, although some absurd claims in that regard have been made.
Whatever happens, we’ll be watching.
Friends of the Stawamus Chief