Removing land from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park “dangerous precedent”, environmentalist warns
A B.C. environmental leader says a proposal to remove two hectares of land from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park for a gondola is cause for concern.
“Removing land from a Class A provincial park sets an alarming precedent,” George Heyman, the executive director of Sierra Club B.C., told the Georgia Straight. “We need to have a transparent public process, rather than behind-the-scenes discussions between a private company and the B.C. government. B.C. Parks should be protecting our public parks, not carving them up for private profit.”
The environmentalist was responding to a feature story, published on Thursday (March 15) by the Straight, about the Sea to Sky Gondola project in Squamish. The proposal would see a sightseeing gondola rise 820 metres from a base between the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls to the ridge northwest of Mount Habrich.
The Straight revealed that the proponent, Sea to Sky Gondola Corp., filed in December an application with B.C. Parks to take a one-kilometre-long, 20-metre-wide corridor out of the Chief park. Seven gondola towers would be constructed in the right of way, which would be redesignated as a protected area.
Earlier this month, Brandin Schultz, South Coast regional manager for B.C. Parks, told the Straight that there is a “great deal of support” in Squamish for the gondola project. He noted B.C. Parks doesn’t plan to hold public meetings of its own about the park-boundary-adjustment application.
“In most cases, the Sea to Sky Gondola Corp. has done most of the consultation for us,” Schultz said at the time. “They’ve met with many of the key stakeholders. They’ve met with and they’ve gone through local community meetings. We’ve also asked them to consult with the First Nations involved, and they’ve gone and done that. And then we’ve also spoken to the First Nations just to verify their support for this project.”
Speaking by phone from Victoria, Heyman called it “completely inappropriate” for B.C. Parks to rely on a private proponent to conduct public consultations for the provincial government.
“It’s the responsibility of B.C. Parks and the government to hold consultations with the public, not a private proponent in whose interest it is to actually have the application for removal approved,” said Heyman, who is a declared candidate for the B.C. NDP nomination in Vancouver-Fairview.
On its website, Sea to Sky posted on Thursday a response to the Straight’s story on its gondola project. The company says it has been “working very collaboratively with BC Parks for the last year to understand the social and environmental impacts and benefits of this project on the Parks”.
“From the beginning, we have been clear that the Gondola will go through the Park and are now formalizing the applications BC Parks has asked us to complete to allow for the construction of the gondola towers,” Sea to Sky states.
On the proposed removal of land from the Chief park and its redesignation as a protected area, the company says: “BC Parks will maintain managerial control over this area and the Sea to Sky Gondola will continue to be required to meet all of the management goals of the BC Parks and Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in this protected area. We have been collaborating extensively with the community of Squamish and specific stakeholders, such as the Climbers Access Society who were instrumental in the creation of the Park, to ensure that the project will bring a wide variety of benefits to locals and visitors alike. We are committed to bringing this project to fruition in accordance with the values of the community and our stakeholders, and are committed to continue this consultative process.”
However, Heyman worries changing the boundaries of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park—which requires the approval of B.C.’s environment minister, cabinet, and legislative assembly—could put other parks in play.
“I can see other developers saying, ‘You did it with Stawamus Chief. Why are you saying no to us, or why are you putting us through a different process than you put that application through? In other words, why are you holding a public hearing now, when you didn’t for that particular proposal?’” Heyman said.
“It’s impossible for the public of B.C. to assess the merits of this proposal, including whether or not the proposal is dependent on the removal of a piece of a designated Class A park, without a public, transparent process. But what we can assess is whether it will set a dangerous precedent, and the answer to that is clearly yes.”