Garibaldi at Squamish: three little words that have been the dream of some, and the nightmare of others, for more than 30 years. The Brohm ridge proposal for 23 ski lifts, 124 ski trails, several village centres, and 20 000 units of hotel and housing pits billionaire development companies Northland Properties and Aguilini Investment Group against concerned citizens and existing stakeholders.
While there are many points of contention, water access is one that has both immediate and long-term consequences. GAS’s own studies indicate that their plan to pump water from the Cheakamus River aquifer will result in existing wells going dry, and in a reduction of flow to the river channels which are important wildlife habitat. They’ve promised to mitigate the problem by digging deeper wells for those affected, but they don’t acknowledge that their tests were taken during the wettest time of year, and with changing weather patterns it’s probable that they’ve underestimated both the river’s capacity during the driest months, and the resort’s water requirements. They also don’t address the frequent problem of extreme rain events, and the likelihood that this will result in contamination of their water supply.
Northland and Aguilini will profit immensely from this project; it’s the reason they’ve backed the dream of a boutique ski resort in an arguably over-served market with even-more-arguably marginal chance for long-term success. The resort doesn’t matter in the long run but what does matter is developing those 20,000 units. With an existing housing crisis, GAS’s admission that the construction phase of the resort will see both a 60 per cent increase in the cost of a home and a 10 to 20 per cent increase in rents are of real concern, not to mention that there is no plan in place to house resort staff. This is the real estate game, and these corporations are out for profit. And, as GAS lies outside Squamish’s boundaries, the district doesn’t stand to gain from any property tax revenue.
What opponents of GAS are standing against is the business-as-usual model that has resulted in a society in which profit trumps clean air, water and soil. Howe Sound is only just emerging from close to a century of industrial pollution that created a huge marine dead zone. After decades of cleanup, the Sound is finally experiencing a marine revival. A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation points out that as the lungs and circulatory system for the entire Lower Mainland region, Howe Sound provides up to $4.7 billion in ecological services each year.
Brohm ridge is not just an empty space that needs to be developed; it’s a valued recreational area which is already well-used by a wide variety of groups which include snowmobilers, dirt bikers, campers, climbers, hikers, trekkers, and others without having to pay a fee. These stakeholders value the area for what it already is: an irreplaceable doorway to the wilderness, less than two hours drive from almost the whole Lower Mainland. In how many other major metropolitan areas can you go from the Trump building to grizzly bear habitat in 90 minutes? Do GAS’s proponents honestly believe that they can improve upon what nature has provided for us?
There’s a lot at stake, and passions are high. GAS proponents ask us to believe that their ski resort will succeed where others are struggling. They will tell us that we have to choose jobs or the environment. This is false. Not only can we have both, we must have both. Squamish will grow; it’s inevitable. But that growth shouldn’t be led by developers with nothing but profit in mind, it should be led by local stakeholders. Ensuring that all DOS residents continue to have access to clean water, and that locals won’t be priced out of the community, are of vital importance.
Nicole Sims is a downtown resident and concerned citizen.