It looks like the SLRD has gotten its way — the environmental assessment of the Garibaldi at Squamish project has been temporarily halted.
At the end of August, SLRD board and staff recommended the province’s environmental assessment of the GAS project be suspended, as they felt the proponent, Garibaldi at Squamish Inc., had failed to provide important information on environmental issues, like water supply, and the overall scale and design of the proposed ski resort.
They also pointed out that some of the information put forward by the proponent was almost 10 years old, and didn’t accurately reflect recent Squamish demographics.
Graeme McLaren, project assessment director for the Environmental Assessment Office, sent a letter to the Chairman of the GAS project on Sept. 14, stating the assessment had been suspended 100 days into the process.
Under the Environmental Assessment Act, there is a 180-day time limit for review of any application, but the process can be suspended at any point, to enable proponents to provide additional information.
The GAS assessment officially began on June 7, 2007.
“The information requirements will need to be satisfied before I am prepared to resume the 180-day review process for the project,” McLaren stated in the letter.
“The information is needed to address issues and concerns identified by the EAO and the Project Working Group, and through the public review period.”
The SLRD is a member of the technical working group, and had been asked to review and comment on the GAS application.
Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland sits on the SLRD board, and said he was pleased to hear the process had been paused to allow time for the proponent to supply additional information.
“We’ve asked for information in Squamish — and I know the SLRD has, as well — that hasn’t been forthcoming in a timely way and our concern was always that the clock would run down and there wouldn’t be enough time to evaluate information or the information would be missing,” said Sutherland.
McLaren’s letter did not specify what additional information GAS needs to supply, but indicated his office would send a separate letter listing the requirements, which will be compiled from suggestions of the working group.
McLaren wouldn’t speculate on the potential duration of the suspension, because he says it will depend on how long it takes the proponents to compile the necessary information.
The clock will start again once he is satisfied the additional information is sufficient, which may involve consultation with members of the working group.
Mike Esler, president and CEO of Garibaldi at Squamish Inc., said he was expecting the suspension, and doesn’t believe it will cause serious delays in the development plans.
“No one has dropped tools,” said Esler.
“We’ve continued on, as has the provincial government, so we’re all working towards getting this process officially started again, and I think we’re talking days, not weeks.”
Esler wouldn’t get into the details of what information they are being asked to provide, but said they are still discussing the outstanding items with the Environmental Assessment Office.
He did say that some of the items are not actually required under the environmental review, but will be in later stages of the development process.
McLaren said he is attempting to filter through the working group’s concerns and clarify what is necessary under the EAOs assessment.
“There’s a certain level of information needed for an environmental assessment certificate, but if there are subsequent permitting decisions that need to be made… that requires much more detailed information than we need,” he said.
This certainly isn’t the first time the GAS project has been sidetracked. After the proponents filed their master plan in April 2003, the Squamish Nation sued the provincial government, which put development plans on hold.
Squamish Nation eventually came to an understanding with GAS, which allowed the plans to move forward again.
Esler said the delay made some of their reports outdated, but they haven’t been asked to update them, and to do so would be unreasonable, given the delay wasn’t their fault. He also pointed out that suspensions happen in projects of this nature and scope.
“There’s just a myriad of agencies and working groups that have to review these things, and they all have questions,” Esler said.
McLaren’s letter also said the public will have another opportunity to respond, once the additional information is received by the EAO.
In addition, Esler said GAS is taking steps to ensure the local community stays informed about the progress of the development. They have hired a public relations company, and will soon be launching their own website.