A controversial ski resort between Vancouver and Whistler has received environmental approval from the British Columbia government and the support of a local First Nation after a process that has been under way for nearly two decades.
Garibaldi at Squamish, a proposed $3.5-billion all-season resort, on Friday received its environmental certificate, which imposed 40 conditions.
"This is only the first step for this project," Environment Minister Mary Polak said in an interview. "But this assessment meets the requirements we have for environmental standards and the mitigation of any possible risks."
The resort, which would have 23 ski lifts, 124 trails, hotels and private residences, has been in the provincial environmental approval system since the late 1990s. The project would cover 2,759 hectares bordering Garabaldi National Park. The proponent says it will create more than 2,500 full-time jobs.
The project is a private operation, backed by Vancouver-based developers Northland Properties, owners of the Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and the Aquilini Investment Group, which owns the Vancouver Canucks.
Concerns were raised about the impact on the local water supply, and the District of Squamish officially opposed the project, questioning its environmental sustainability.
The project received the support of the Squamish Nation, which reached an agreement with the developer for a 10 per cent stake, revenue sharing and employment opportunities. The band also says the project will preserve its members' ability to exercise their aboriginal rights.
"We've been working on this since 2003, and we're going to continue to be involved, to protect our cultural and environmental values in that area," Chief Ian Campbell said.
Mr. Cambell said the Squamish Nation is comfortable that environmental and cultural interests will be protected.
The conditions attached to the environmental certificate include monitoring water consumption and limiting the rate of groundwater withdrawal.
Concerns were raised several years ago about that the area's water supply, prompting the provincial government to order studies in 2010.
The original proposal included two 18-hole golf courses, but they were removed to assuage concerns about water use.
The Whistler-Blackcomb resort, which is about 60 kilometres farther from Vancouver, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Garabaldi proposal, expressing concerns as early as 2008. Resort president David Brownlie wrote to B.C.'s Environmental Assessment office in June, 2015, arguing that the project would have poor terrain and conditions.
"[Garabaldi at Squamish] would damage B.C.'s reputation and undermine its success as a world-class ski destination," the letter said.
A spokesperson for Whistler-Blackcomb was not immediately available to comment on the approval for the resort.
Other nearby organizations were against the project based on environmental factors.
Last month, the District of Squamish unilaterally passed a resolution opposing it.
According to council, although the district supported provincial tourism initiatives, it had concerns about the size and scope, and environmental sustainability. The resolution said the district would not support the certificate, regardless of whether it included conditions.
The province's most recent study of the area's water was released last fall. It found that although supply would be adequate in the wet winter and spring months, groundwater restrictions might be needed in the summer and fall.