05/09/2012 10:35 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Changes to park for Squamish gondola draw criticism

A B.C. government bill to reconfigure a provincial park in Squamish to allow for a cable car development sets a disturbing precedent, some environmentalists say.

The Sea to Sky Gondola company has plans to build a gondola system to the top of Mount Habrich, near the world famous Stawamus Chief rock face.

But such a commercial project cannot be built within a park, so the boundaries of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park have to be altered to make way for it, which a bill introduced in the B.C. legislature Monday would do.

"Who's in charge here,” said Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee Tuesday. “Is it the company who wants to put a gondola and seven towers within the provincial park, or is it the B.C. government or B.C. Parks?"

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake said the cable car plan has already been endorsed by some local authorities.

"It's got First Nations support, local government support and public support at two public meetings of the municipality and the regional district," Lake said.

Squamish District Council has approved the cable project, but the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and B.C. Parks have yet to decide.

B.C. Parks said the developer itself has been conducting hearings, but officials have been monitoring them and deemed them adequate.

The company said it's been listening and will adjust the project’s location to a point where the gondola won't be seen by people hiking the Chief.

“We’ve really sort of used the public to make sure we’re getting the project right, said Trevor Dunn, of Sea to Sky Gondola.

Unlike more remote B.C. parks, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, located on the main route to Whistler, has been used more for recreation than conservation.

Some people in the area hope the gondola will bring tourists and jobs, but not at any price.

“They have to protect the parkland ... protect the environment. And they have to make sure it really does bring the jobs in,” said Jason Metcalf, a resident of nearby Britannia Beach.