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Whistler and Pemberton mayors voice G@S concerns

Environment minister hears Sea to Sky deputation about proposed Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort

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A small deputation of Whistler and Pemberton politicians met B.C. environment minister Mary Polak at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) on Tuesday, Sept. 17 to discuss the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort (G@S).

Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, Whistler councillor Jack Crompton and the resort's chief administrative officer Mike Furey spent 15 minutes with Polak, telling her about their objections to G@S, which is proposed for the Brohm Ridge area just north of Squamish. Pemberton Mayor and regional MLA Jordan Sturdy was also present, said Wilhelm-Morden.

"We wanted to talk to her about Garibaldi at Squamish undergoing an environmental assessment," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"What we wanted to make them aware of was that the game has really changed as far as destination visitors (to Whistler). To a large extent, we are relying on regional guests and to build a major, new competing resort development 30 minutes away from Whistler doesn't really make any sense if we are struggling with being overbuilt — with 50 per cent occupancy, the resort marketplace is highly competitive."

Wilhelm-Morden added that a large number of ministry staff was also there, including two assistant deputy ministers and the deputy minister. She said this was the first time they had spoken to an environment minister about G@S and its impact.

"Our pitch was that we understand the province is doing their due diligence on this and that they have agreed, as part of the environmental assessment, that they're going to seek more information because the social and economic part of the assessment is dated. It goes back to 2007 and times have changed considerably," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"The province has a considerable investment in Whistler. We reiterated again that Whistler is an economic engine for the province, we've got $1.3 billion per year in GDP and annual tax revenues of over $400 million, and 22.5 per cent of the entire annual tourism export revenue of British Columbia comes from Whistler."

The cluster-model concept which has been touted by some, where more than one resort in the same locations create a concentration of resorts to draw people does not work for Whistler, Wilhelm-Morden said. That's because there are not enough people living within easy access, unlike areas of Colorado, for example.

"We just don't have the available population that the Colorado area has. Garibaldi at Squamish is going to be built at much lower elevation and it's not necessarily going to be a good ski experience," Wilhelm-Morden said.

Polak listened, the mayor added.

"She certainly appreciates the importance of Whistler to the provincial economy and she's very aware of both the challenges that we face and our successes. And she is also aware of the investment the province has in Whistler. So, it was a good 15 minutes," Wilhelm-Morden said.

She said written submissions would be made by the RMOW when the ministry opens up the social and economic side of environmental assessment. No timeline has been set for the submissions as yet.

The UBCM conference takes place in Vancouver until Friday, Sept. 20.

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