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Golf course application ‘premature’

Council disappointed with First Nations Callaghan plans

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By Alison Taylor

Lead negotiator for the Lil’wat Nation, Lyle Leo, said the application to build golf course/residential development in the Callaghan Valley was premature and inaccurate.

He was just as surprised to see the application on Whistler council’s agenda as council itself was, blaming the mistake on a glitch in the process at the provincial Integrated Land Management Bureau.

“It’s not accurate and it isn’t aligned with the collaborative approach that we’ve been taking with the Whistler administration,” said Leo this week.

He hopes the premature application will not hurt a growing partnership with the resort municipality.

“The partnership is working,” said Leo. “There’s a lot we are undertaking which means there’s a lot of information that can be misinterpreted and sometimes go down the wrong path and we have to back up and do some damage control and ensure that we strengthen our partnership rather than create dissension.”

Mayor Ken Melamed said that was good news.

“If nothing else it confirms to First Nations our feelings about the Callaghan,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to working with them when they re-apply because we know they have an interest in the Callaghan and they understand that there’s opportunity in Whistler and we’re committed to working with them.”

Council was unaware of this mistake at Monday’s council meeting however, as it considered the application as per a request for comment from the provincial ILMB.

Its feedback was clear — building a residential development beside a golf course in the Callaghan Valley is not consistent with the resort municipality’s growth strategies or its vision in the Whistler2020 plan.

They were unanimous in their opposition to the plans.

“It is a little disappointing that this application has been made by the First Nations,” said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, adding that she had hoped their relationship with neighbouring First Nations was a little stronger.

Her colleague, Councillor Gordon McKeever, echoed that disappointment.

“We rejected (the Callaghan) as an opportunity for resident housing,” he said. “The thought of creating a significant market housing subdivision… is something I can’t support.”

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who has been active in wilderness conservation initiatives in the areas surrounding Whistler, removed himself from the discussion due to a conflict of interest.

The remaining councillors were relatively quiet on the issue.

The 12-page joint application by Squamish and Lil’wat Nations, which was advertised in newspapers over the holidays, details an 18-hole golf course but there is scant information on the residential component of the project.

The application shows the golf course would lie on 150 acres of leased Crown land (with the option to purchase after 30 years). Just beside the golf course is an approximately 100 to 150 acre swath of land which is to be transferred to the First Nations as part of their 300 acre legacy lands from the 2010 Games negotiations. The residential component would be built on this fee simple legacy land.

Leo said the plan was simply an option and not ready to be taken to the municipality or the public. And their legacy lands are still not secured.

“It was basically an economic development option,” he said of the plan.

First Nations have been brainstorming and visioning as they look for opportunities for economic development on their legacy lands.

“One of the options was a golf course,” said Leo. “It was commented that to ensure a golf course is economically sustainable that developing housing would be good. We haven’t acquired the lands yet where we can sit down and do an economic strategy or even get to a point where we have to do a feasibility (study) of any particular economic development option.”

The application, however, highlights the conflicting visions for land use in the area.

Contacted this week, area MLA Joan McIntyre reaffirmed the province’s commitment to economic development for First Nations.

“The province is saying… we want First Nations to have opportunity for economic development and capacity building. We are saying that loud and clear through our new relationship and I generally support that…. This is not lip service.”

She called for respectful dialogue on the issue.

“It’s unfortunate in the sense that at one stage there’s a group wanting no growth at a time when First Nations are looking for economic opportunity and development,” she said. “That’s the nub of all of this.”

“What I’m looking for is dialogue on these issues and ways of sharing the resource. We have to figure out how to do this going forward. There are so many challenges and conflicts on the land that we have to find respectful ways of sorting out these issues.”

Leo reiterated that he does not want this premature application to jeopardize their relationship with Whistler.

“We want to work together and show society at large that First Nations are capable of being responsible and engage in a feasible and sustainable economy,” he said. “And also show government that partnerships can work. But we need the co-operation of all levels of government while we work with the local levels of government.

“We are willing to keep our good will and good faith at the table to develop stronger partnerships and overcome the glitches.”

He added that he hoped Whistler is willing to do so too.