Through the Hedge Backwards
Bushwacking through B.C.'s Streamlined Environmental Asessment Process
On November 18th, 2010, I glanced at an advertisement in the Agassiz-Harrison Observer Newspaper inviting the public to an open house on Hemlock Resort Proposed Resort Development Expansion. Good idea, I thought, the resort needs sprucing up. From the late seventies through the nineties my family had enjoyed outdoor recreation there - skiing, hiking and mountain biking. It was close to town and safe for kids. When it rained instead of snowed, as it often did, I could spend the afternoons in the lodge with a coffee and a good novel while the boys braved the elements. Hemlock had its ups and downs over the years - sometimes open and booming at others in receivership and for sale. Yes, I thought, an overhaul would be great!Then I notice with surprise that the map indicates the development will extend to the edge of Harrison Lake and many kilometres up and down the shores. I quickly log onto Ministry of Natural Resource Operations and find a five-phase proposal expanding the present 346 ha site to 6,408 hectares, 19,969 bed units (BU) and 1,265 ha of ski terrain.
Yikes! What would the environmental impacts of that be? Are they noted in the Environmental Overview?
I talk to Terry Pratt, manager of major projects with the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations (MNRO). I ask why no Environmental Assessment. “It’s an existing resort. The Resort Development Branch has a process modelled on the EAO Review”.
In the evening, I check out All Season Resort Guidelines: Chapter II: Mountain Resorts by the Resort Planning Group: Brent Harley & Associates (BHA), the same group that produced the Draft Hemlock Master Plan (MP). The Review Committee Members read like the “Who’s who” of BC’s mountain ski resorts.
The front cover explains the new, "streamlined" approval process. Oh, is this why there’s a new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations? Does it clear up all this confusion of which fox is in charge of the hen house?”
So I show up at the Open House. At 11 a.m. sharp, Ralph Berezan, owner of the Berezan group, introduces Chief Willy Charlie, who eloquently welcomes the sixty-strong crowd to the Sts’ailes traditional territory.
Chief Charlie speaks of the recreational opportunities in this beautiful, pristine area and the importance of protection of the environment, salmon and ancestral sites.
Pratt takes us through the review process. Too bad I hadn’t put all those acronyms into long-term memory. Her “best guess” agency review process timeline is two to three years. I write down “public comments until January 14, 2011”.
Next, Brent Harley, consultant with BHA, speaks. He’s really enthusiastic. Berezan Group purchased Hemlock in 2006. By 2008 it “put the pieces together” for a plan that has gone through significant adjustments.
He’s pleased with its visibility and proximity to 2.5 million people of the Lower Mainland. Layer after layer of maps flash on the overhead. 23 ski lifts at $10 million dollars apiece. Balanced Resort Capacity (BRC) 16 600 persons / day. “Not a Whistler, not a Big White but a Hemlock! “No Starbucks, no Seven Eleven Stores”.
Mr. Harley gets to environmental matters. “Sensitive elements but no show-stoppers.” I think of the grizzly bears and old growth.
“Slope analysis reveals mostly intermediate. That’s the market. That’s bread and butter.”
Finally it’s question time. The public is astute.
How does the final size compare to other BC resorts? “Not as big as Whistler.”
What about the forests? “Ski trails are vertically clear-cut; there is plenty of forestry interest. Logging gives economic diversification. Avalanche control is part of the MP.”
What about the lack of snow in a changing climate? “Snow making and all season resort plans take care of it.”
"Is there sufficient water during drought for forest fire suppression? Is lake draw-down possible?" We’re assured of government regulations and water studies.
The comment deadline is too soon, we grumble. Pratt says, if it’s a problem, let her know.
Financing the expansion? Berezan thinks real estate sales will cover it. The Crown sells Berezan acreage as things progress. Pratt says financing must be in place for licence of occupation and master development agreement approval. Harley says one phase must be successful before the next begins.
Questions continue on power supply and heating. “Cooperation with a Run-of-river (ROR) developer on Sakwi Creek considered and a possibility of wind power.” Who pays for power generation? What about the high price of ROR power? An increased tax base will cover it.
Now the audience turns to traffic. How about construction traffic? How many heavy trucks a day? There will be traffic impact studies.” Who will pay for new roads? “A Public Private Partnership”.
I ask why grizzlies and old growth aren’t show-stoppers? “Further studies coming.” Visual impacts on Harrison Hot Springs? “No, won’t be any.” Later Chief Charlie tells me Camp Cove is visible.
The throb of Chief Charlie’s drum welcoming Elders to Christmas lunch soothes me. There’s way more questions than answers. Will the terms and conditions of the Master Development Agreement contract be public?
I leave the Sts’ailes Healing Centre, binoculars and camera swinging. Off to view the bald eagles. There’s close to a thousand. Lord, it couldn’t impact this spectacle, could it?
By Janne Perrin, Sierra Club BC member in Harrison Springs