The B.C. government has issued an environmental assessment certificate for Garibaldi at Squamish mountain resort, proposed as a major competitor for North Shore ski hills and Whistler-Blackcomb resort.
The project has faced strong commercial and environmental opposition over 15 years, and the approval comes with 40 conditions and cautions about its impacts to the area.
Garibaldi at Squamish is now backed by Aquilini Group and Northland Properties, the Gaglardi family company that owns Revelstoke Mountain Resort and once battled the Aquilinis over ownership of the Vancouver Canucks.
The Squamish Nation is a partner in the Garibaldi project, which proposes expansion over 25 years to a 22,000-bed year-round resort village on Brohm Ridge near Squamish. It includes 23 ski lifts and 124 developed ski trails, scaled down from the original plan that included two golf courses and more housing.
Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell said the certificate is the first step in getting the project going, and more approvals will be needed from his council and the province.
"Squamish Nation will obtain a licence over a wilderness area that will be equal in size to the project area to practise its aboriginal rights," Campbell said in a statement. "Although the project is controversial, Squamish Nation is comfortable that its cultural and environmental interests have been protected and that it will share appropriately in the economic benefits of the project."
In issuing the certificate, Environment Minister Mary Polak and Forests Minister Steve Thomson noted that the proponents made significant changes during environmental assessment. They include changing the water supply from Brohm River surface water to groundwater, as well as removing golf courses and housing near Cat and Brohm Lakes, which are popular recreation lakes for Squamish residents.
Whistler council has lobbied the B.C. government to reject the project, arguing it would take business away from existing resorts, rather than draw more skiers in a "cluster effect" as argued by its proponents.
The Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. has also opposed the development, suggesting it may result in a move to expand into Garibaldi Park, as was the case with the Whistler-Blackcomb expansion.