Hedley residents turned out in force last Saturday (Sept. 9, 2017) to learn about the gondola project under consideration by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band and a group of entrepreneurs, mostly from Texas. A couple of local ranchers, former Senator Gerry St. Germain and his son Jay, appear to be key in connecting the band with the Texans. The senior St. Germain has a wealth of business and political experience and connections.
Band Chief Rick Holmes said, “It’s an idea that has been talked about for at least 10 years. We are concerned for the entire community and we want people to be informed.” He told the audience he had become excited about the project after talking with Gerry St. Germain. “The band needs to generate more revenue,” he said. He had taken the investors from Texas to the former Mascot mine site and they believe the gondola concept has possibilities.
“We already have contracts with the Squamish Nation,” Jack Matthews said. “Hedley is quaint and the view from the mine site is spectacular. There is still a lot of research to be done before we know if it’s feasible. We’ll have more answers in a year.”
One of the challenges for the proposed enterprise is where to situate the gondola at the bottom and also at the mine. At this time two sites are favoured. One is in the vicinity of the pump houses for the town’s water system. Lynn Wells, chair of the Hedley Improvement District registered her concern, citing the potential of pollution and other issues. The town has an easement allowing for its pumps. The land is owned by Barrick Gold.
The other site the group likes is on Lot 2900, located on the far side of the Colonial Lodge and the Gold House. I’ve been told this property is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Mines.
The business group recognizes that the tourist season here is limited, due to weather. Initially they talked about “layering.” They mentioned building a zip line and offering gold panning.
During the question period, some interest was expressed in the project, also a number of concerns. One resident drew chuckles when he said, “I don’t want people looking down on me when I’m sun bathing in the nude in my back yard.” He likely doesn’t sun bathe in the nude but his objection was understood by all.
It was apparent that one of the main issues for a lot of people was the likely disruption of the peaceful way of life we enjoy here. People were nervous about the possibility of hotels and restaurants being added to the gondola concept to make it more attractive and profitable.
Several of the business group said they want to consider the concerns of local people. Gerry St. Germain said, “I don’t want the town to change in a big way.”
At the end of the meeting I said that for the Hedley Gondola project to proceed and be good for the Band and the town, the promoters will need to win our trust. They will be under tremendous pressure to add amenities to attract tourists. This will certainly be disturbing to many residents. We came here, at least in part, to escape the noise and pace of city life. Promises about not changing the town in a big way will be kept only if the people who make them are of good character.