After decades of neglect the Minister for Sustainable Resource Management, George Abbott, made an announcement last week that draped Britannia Beach in the kind of glory it had when it was the largest copper mine in the British Empire.
Abbott and three other provincial ministers, as well as the Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, MLA Ted Nebbeling and SLRD Area D Director John Turner, crowded into a room in the old mine to share the glory and to announce that Epcor Water Services had won the contract to build a water treatment plant at the former mine. The water treatment plant will halt the tons of chemicals that go into Howe Sound daily from acid rock drainage.
Epcor beat two other proponents to win the contract. Details are still being finalized but Abbott said the project would be financed from the $30 million fund the government has put aside for cleanup of the Britannia mine and construction is expected to finish next fall.
The announcement is the end of a long fight for many people in Britannia Beach and scores of interest groups around B.C. who have sought for decades to clean up one of the most contaminated sites in Canada.
It was also a perfect opportunity for several politicians to highlight what the provincial government was doing for the environment, private-public partnerships and business prior to 2010. Abbott confirmed that "this is one of those situations that governments love."
"Its a great win-win for the everyone; its a great win for the environment and for economic development as well," he said. "Well resolve one of the major pollution challenges in North America and well face opportunities for investments for three decades. Our partnerships have been the key to success.
"I want to thank all of you here and others that have worked for in some cases decades to see this announcement take place; this is the fruits of those efforts."
Nebbeling agreed that the best thing about this project was that so many levels of government were able to co-operate and deliver.
"(Co-operation) for me is what I tried to really stress because there is a lot of people who were involved that werent mentioned and I dont think it would have worked without them.
"We had to co-operate because a) to get the money, b) it was dealing with federal regulation, it was dealing with provincial regulation and it was dealing with environmental law. So to overcome all these hurdles and barriers that you normally face was a tremendous effort and a very, very well led program because it will deal with an environmental problem."
It was impossible to ignore the Olympic overtones at the announcement and Nebbeling confirmed that this would be a project the government will refer to in the future.
"This is an indirect consequence of our promise to have the most environmentally sensitive Games in British Columbia in 2010," he said.
"How can you say that, if in the area where the Olympics are going to be held that theres such an abomination of an environmental damage done in one of the most pristine water areas of the coast?"
Small business Minister John Les said the project was also significant because it was a public-private partnership and those are a priority for the Gordon Campbell government.
"I think youre standing on one of the sites of greatest potential that we have on the coast of British Columbia," said Les. "What was once and for many years considered one of the blights on the landscape is going to be reborn as one of those real first class opportunities in the future. Not only in terms of environmental recovery but also in terms of economically what could happen.
"Just a few months ago there were 91 residential lots sold here within four days and I think thats just an early glimmer of the potential that this place holds.
"I am especially proud of the fact that it is a public-private partnership and those of you who know me know that I believe that that is the option of choice usually in terms of procuring important services like this water treatment plant. Public-private partnerships are about generating private investment for these important public sector needs."
Les added: "There is no question that this entire Sea to Sky corridor is going to look a lot different to what it does today five years from now. And I think having this place is going to be a real feather in our cap."
Both Turner and Sutherland spoke of the spirit of co-operation that had developed between the SLRD and the councils along the Sea to Sky corridor.
"The acid rock treatment plant will be the catalyst that enables other exciting projects to move forward starting now," said Turner.
Sutherland said: "The opportunities in the corridor are amazing. When you see whats going on in Britannia Beach and see whats going on with the highway and the $600 million improvement, and it has happened because were all working together."