If you’ve driven past the new Sea to Sky Gondola, nestled into the picturesque mountains just outside of Squamish, then you’ve seen the work of Cascade Environmental Resource Group Ltd.
The company’s environmental consultants conducted the full impact assessment of the gondola using cutting-edge technology that had a lasting effect on the project.
“We were able to use our Geographic Information System (GIS) to generate a 3D image of the treetops and the actual lift before it was built and calculate everywhere the gondola would potentially hit trees,” says Dave Williamson, co-owner principal consultant of the company. “Then those were the trees that were removed. This approach had never been used before. It was a groundbreaking study and it saved the client a lot of time and money. We’re really proud of our GIS team’s creativity and we think BC Parks is pleased with the results.”
As environmental consultants, Cascade Environmental works quietly behind the scenes on a range of projects, from big-name developments to recreational trails and run-of-river power projects, to ensure high environmental standards.
Although you might not often hear about the work they do, that’s the way their team of scientists and resource managers prefers it.
“The less people hear about us, the more they hear about our projects, the better,” says Mike Nelson, the other principal consultant and co-owner of the company. “The idea of being a consultant is you’re almost invisible. The client is key — it’s their project.”
Nelson and Williamson began working together 25 years ago when they both still owned separate companies. Their first project together was working on developing the Benchlands area of Whistler for Intrawest. Williamson had the contract, but needed some extra help. Through friends, he connected with Nelson.
“We got along so well with two small companies that we kept bringing each other projects,” Williamson says. “It was a collaborative effort for many years.”
Eventually, after nearly a decade of working together, it was their better halves that suggested the merge. “My wife was doing our books and said, ‘You’re just writing cheques back and forth,’” Nelson says, with a laugh.
The merger in 1999 couldn’t have happened at a better time; Whistler was in the midst of a development boom then, a few years later, the town got the bid to co-host the 2010 Winter Olympics with Vancouver.
“It took us to the next level,” Williamson says. “A whole bunch of things came together and the growth was exponential with an expanded staff of adventurers with a passion for the outdoors.”
Two of their biggest Environmental Impact Assessments for the Games were the Whistler Athletes’ Village in Cheakamus Crossing and the Creekside Speed and Technical Skiing venues on Whistler Mountain. “We were involved from absolute start to finish on both projects.” says Williamson.
“The idea of being a consultant is you’re almost invisible. The client is key — it’s their project.”
With offices in both Whistler and Squamish — which is in the midst of its own boom — the Cascade team boasts an intimate knowledge of the corridor, which is deeply valuable for their line of work. “Dave and I have operated here for 25 years and we’ve got a knowledge base built up,” explains Nelson.
The Sea to Sky corridor has been their proving ground for high quality tourism, recreation and development projects. They’ve also applied this experience to projects across the province and country.
The pair is also passionate about recreation and protecting the environment in the place they call home. “I think that’s why neither of us are talking about retiring; we love the work,” Williamson says. “Every day there’s a new challenge. Our mantra is, ‘For every project, the environment must be better off because of our participation.’”