Provincial Environment Minister Barry Penner says the province will "maintain the status quo" for the Cayoosh Resort project until the government "fulfils its requirement to consult" with First Nations about the resort proposal.
Penner announced his decision on Aug. 11 in a document posted on his ministry's website. He said his decision effectively extends, for an undetermined period of time, the deadline for starting construction on the controversial project. In a carefully-worded statement, the minister also said the province has a legally enforceable duty to consult with St'át'imc leaders prior to any land use decisions which may affect their asserted rights.
The minister's statement noted the province is engaged in a government-to-government protocol with the St'át'imc Chiefs Council, "which has initiated protocol table discussions with goals that include improved consultation and resolution of land use issues."
Penner said, "The provision of additional time for proper consultation by the Crown on the application is warranted, given the advances in the law since the certificate was issued and the ongoing protocol discussions."
In announcing his decision, Penner said he was acting in "the public interest" by varying the Environmental Assessment Act to extend the deadline for NGR Resort Consultants to commence "substantial start of construction" on the proposed four-season destination mountain resort. It would be located in the Melvin Creek Valley between Lillooet and Pemberton and would include ski villages, ski runs and lifts, recreational trails, a golf course, on-site infrastructure and an access road from Highway 99.
Cayoosh Resort proponent Al Raine reacted cautiously to Penner's announcement.
"I kind of thought that might happen," Raine told the News Aug. 15.
He and his wife and partner, Olympic skiing gold medallist Nancy Greene Raine, have been unable to proceed with the $500 million Cayoosh project because of vehement opposition from the St'át'imc Chiefs Council, which says the Melvin Creek area (Sutikalh) is sacred traditional territory.
The Raines, through their company NGR Resort Consultants, applied for the original environmental certification for the resort. That certification was granted five years ago by the Environmental Assessment Office and was due to expire Aug. 14.
Penner attached one condition to his decision to extend the deadline no construction activity by the resort proponent can take place "until the minister causes notification to be electronically mailed to the proponent."
In applying for the extension, Raine had already made a commitment to the provincial government that he would not proceed with any on-site work at the proposed resort location for a one-year period following the Aug. 14 deadline for granting the extension.
Chief Garry John, chair of the St'át'imc Chiefs Council, was unavailable for comment on the minister's decision.
Last month, he said the St'át'imc remain opposed to the resort.
"We took a position five years ago and the position we took in 2000 hasn't changed," Chief John told the News July 26.
Bridge River Lillooet News AUG 17th 2005.USLCES Home page.