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The resort currently has about 1,100 beds, four ski lifts, and the expansion plan calls for an increase of 20,000 beds and 23 ski lifts over the next 60 years.Henry Georgi

The leader of a B.C. First Nation says he initially opposed the massive expansion of a ski resort on his band's traditional territory but was won over by the prospect of jobs for his community.

The B.C. government announced Thursday it has approved a $1.5-billion expansion plan for Hemlock Resort, located in the Fraser Valley about 65 kilometres west of Chilliwack.

It is on the traditional territory of the Sts'ailes Band, a First Nation with about 1,000 members, about half living on the reserve.

The resort, owned by the Berezan Group, currently has about 1,100 beds, four ski lifts and a recreation area of 350 hectares. The expansion plan calls for an increase of 20,000 beds and 23 ski lifts over the next 60 years. The resort's recreation area will also grow to more than 6,000 hectares, as it transitions to a year-round destination.

Over the next 20 years, the plan calls for the development of a residential village and marina, along with facilities for mountain biking, hiking and all-terrain vehicles.

Chief Harvey Paul of the Sts'ailes said the size of the expansion was initially a concern.

"But after many lengthy discussions with the Berezan Group and the opportunity to work together and provide employment opportunities for our people, we decided in the long run this would be more beneficial for the community of Sts'ailes," he said in an interview.

The Hemlock Resort master plan says construction will create an estimated 34,000 person years of employment. The province says the first phase of the expansion will create the equivalent of 1,153 full-time jobs. The resort will ultimately have about 1,500 employees.

"There's going to be a lot of building construction going on," Mr. Paul said. "There's going to be a lot of room for tourists and overnight accommodation. All of these lodges will need staff, maintenance staff, housekeepers, janitorial, kitchen staff, chefs, chefs' assistants. And with the expansion of the number of ski lifts, there will be ski-lift operators and ski instructors."

Mr. Paul said the exact number of jobs that will be held by his community members has not been determined. He said the tax revenue that the band will receive from the province must also still be agreed to.

But he spoke optimistically about the project, noting the resort's proximity to the Vancouver area.

"We're hoping it'll be better than Whistler," he said.

Ralph Berezan, chief executive officer of the Berezan Group, purchased the resort in 2006 and work on the master plan began in 2008. The company has spent more than $10-million upgrading the resort since it was purchased.

Mr. Berezan, when asked how the company would finance the expansion, laughed and said: "My son asked me that same question."

He said the company will start by making $5-million to $15-million investments and move in phases.

"Slowly, each development has to be completed before we move to the next one," he said, adding the cost will be made easier by the fact it is stretched over several decades.

Hemlock Resort did not open last season due to lack of snow, and Mr. Berezan said he was concerned about that fact and the possible effects of climate change. Climate factored into the decision to shift to an all-season resort, with golf, horseback riding and boating, he said.

Mr. Berezan noted there were several inches of snow at the resort Thursday.

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