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Developers optimistic despite ‘impossible task’

Initial plans for Squamish gondola facing some stiff opposition

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The project has only just reached the public domain but the men proposing to develop a gondola to the top of the Stawamus Chief are already warning that the province has set up an "impossible task" and could be facing a court battle if their plans fail.

Paul Mathews, president of Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, and Peter Alder from Peter Alder Enterprises have been working on a plan to build a gondola up Squamish’s most famous landmark for approximately a year. Their concept has only recently become public but they already face some stiff opposition.

A growing group of protestors, calling themselves the Friends of the Chief, announced their opposition as soon as Mathews and Alder sent out a press release detailing their plans.

According to several sources, members of B.C. Parks in Squamish are also vehemently opposed to the idea.

Despite the opposition Alder and Mathews both remain optimistic.

And both men were confident that if, for some reason, the protestors are successful in stopping this project then they would be able to regain some of their expenses from the province.

In the papers, on radio and on the Internet the people opposed to the gondola have outlined a number of issues, but all of them agree that the public needs to be consulted about this project as soon as possible.

This is a salient point because Alder and Mathews are not allowed to consult the public until they have consulted with the groups the province has identified as being stakeholders.

Alder said it was important they follow the guidelines set out by the province because that’s what they agreed to do, but also because if they follow the province’s instructions and the project is still refused they might be able to reclaim funds in court.

"We are not allowed to do this (consult the public) until we meet with the stakeholders," said Alder.

"And what we are planning to do is follow exactly what they (the province) say because if it ever comes to a lawsuit… then we would be able to say we followed exactly what they set out for us to do."

B.C. Minister of Water, Lands and Air Protection Bill Barisoff disagrees with the men on this point.

However, Mathews said the situation at the moment was "impossible" because the province had told them to get the community’s support without giving them permission to address the public.

"They (the province) almost set us up with an impossible task," said Mathews.

"We still haven’t been able to put the details to the public and you know what I think (most of the opposition) would say: ‘Is that all there is?’.

"But we’re specifically forbidden to make anything public until we’ve spoken to the stakeholders, and it makes no sense."

But Barisoff said his ministry had instructed the men to get community support for the project and it would not be opposed to any kind of informal public consultation.

"The proponent has the option to seek community support but they have to amend the current parks management plan… so if they can get broad community support and demonstrate that to my ministry, that’s when we can consider amending the management plan to reflect the public’s wishes," said Barisoff.

"But the onus of responsibility lies with the proponent to get that public support so they’ve got to go through the process of inviting feedback… before the rumour mill gets going."

While there is clearly some confusion about who’s supposed to be doing what and when, Barisoff said that developers who work on these kinds of projects usually do a good job of consulting the public.

"Most proponents nowadays if they truly want to accomplish things of this nature then they find ways to accommodate the needs of the people," he said.

Alder said to reach the people in the meantime they would be starting a Web site — www.stawamuschiefgondola.com .

"We haven’t got a Web site up and running before now because they (the province) made certain conditions on us so we had to clean it up first," said Alder

"We are trying everything in our power to warn the public as much as we can on the reality of what the project entails."

Mathews and Alder will formally face Squamish council for the first time on Sept. 28.

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