The towering cliffs of Squamish, B.C., are at the centre of a heated debate over a proposal to build a cable-car gondola though the provincial park and up the side of a neighbouring mountain.

The plan, which has already won preliminary approval does have its critics, but the developers are confident it is going to go ahead.

"We're bringing a gondola to Squamish," said Trevor Dunn, of Sea-to-Sky Gondola. "We've been working on it for a couple of years and ... and we're excited about it."

hi-bc-120315-squamish-gondola-rendering-4col

An artist's rendering shows how the gondola might look on its way up the Squamish cliffs. (Sea-to-Sky Gondola)

The projected cost is about $20 million, with rides expected to go for about $29 per person.

A famous section of the cliffs, the Stawamus Chief rock face — named because from one angle it looks like a facial profile — draws hundreds of climbers a year from all over the world.

But not everyone wants to scale the rock or hike up to the top, and that’s where the developers see their market niche.

"A gondola is something anybody can do whether you're two years old or 90 years old," said Dunn.

A similar project was proposed in 2004, but was eventually rejected because it was proposed to run right up the Stawamus Chief.

But the latest plan would leave the famous cliff alone and place the lift through the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park to the south, where it would run to the top of Mount Habrich.

"There are a lot of people that sort of see this as a way for the community to take park in that economy that is traveling between Vancouver and Whistler," said Dunn.

More approvals required

District of Squamish Council has approved the plan, but the project also needs a green light from the Squamish-Lillooett Regional District, BC Parks, and the provincial government.

"The community supports the project and it could be seen as something beneficial for tourism infrastructure in their community," said B.C. Forests and Lands Minister Steve Thomson.

"But it is important to note there is a process that that application will need to go through."

Critics such as Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee are concerned about the fate of the park, because the project would require that the gondola site be reclassified from parkland to a "protected area."

"You have a private company coming in and saying, 'Hey we actually want to come and take out hectares out of the park for this gondola development,'" said Barlee.

"We are saying that is not consistent with why parks are created. That is not consistent with why the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park was created."

"Provincial parks aren't supposed to be bisected, aren't supposed to be cut in half, aren't supposed to have hectares of land taken out of them at the wishes of developer." 

If the official stakeholders all sign off, construction would begin in September and the lift would be ready for visitors in the summer of 2013.  

 

With files from the CBC's Stephanie Mercier