By Andrew Mitchell
Even as the Sea to Sky Highway upgrade was conceived, approved and launched, existing Lil’wat First Nation land claims remained unresolved.
However, after three years of negotiations the B.C. government and Lil’wat have reached an agreement that allows the province to widen and upgrade the highway in exchange for eight parcels of land in the Pemberton and Mt. Currie area, as well as funding for training and education.
The Lil’wat also have an option to buy five more parcels of land in the region.
As a concession, the Lil’wat have given the province a guarantee that the section of Highway 99 that runs through their claimed traditional territory and is being upgraded will be free from future rights and interest claims.
“This agreement is a great example of successful partnering to bring better infrastructure, more jobs and better economic opportunities to First Nations,” said Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon. “I’m pleased that we’ve been able to work with the Lil’wat First Nation so they can take advantage of the opportunities along the Sea to Sky corridor.”
According to the most recent Lil’wat Nation Land Use Plan, their traditional territory includes the portion of highway under development from Rubble Creek, near the Daisy Lake Dam, to Whistler, and is identified as a Conditional Economic Development Area — allowing most activities with permission from the Nation.
“This agreement is about securing the future for the Lil’wat people,” said Chief Leonard Andrew, referring to $1 million in funding for employment training and advice on joint ventures as well as to the land deal. “It will allow our people to pursue jobs, receive training and take advantage of greater economic opportunities.”
The eight parcels of land transferred in the agreement total 599.6 acres (242.6 hectares), and are located around the Pemberton Valley. They have an estimated value of $9.5 million.
“Different types of activities could happen there, such as developments of lands with structures and housing, and some will be geared towards forestry and things like that. Some lands are already developed, for example the BCBC lands where there is a highway yard in existence,” said Andrew.
The other five parcels that Lil’wat have an option to buy through the agreement total 600 acres. According to Andrew the nation has some idea how those lands can be used as well if they decide to finalize the purchase. A lot of work still has to be done before they will make that decision, but Andrew says the process will be made easier by the fact that they have been working over three years on the agreement, and local governments and user groups are already familiar with the situation.
“We still have to work with local government, the Village of Pemberton and SLRD, and in some cases with other organizations like Crown corporations,” he said. “Especially in cases where those lands are already developed, or agreements have been made for trails and other recreational purposes.”
The highway agreement was announced on Friday, Dec. 15 at a press conference featuring members of the provincial government, Lil’wat Nation, Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project and Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre.