Gondola battle goes to city hall

Mayor says TransLink can't afford current services - so why is it looking at gondola?

The battle to block the Burnaby Mountain gondola project from moving ahead went to city hall this week.

Citizens Opposed to the Gondola made a presentation to Burnaby council at Monday night's meeting, informing the city of its issues with the project.

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The organization is an adhoc group of residents who are concerned about the gondola line, which could run above their community from Production Way SkyTrain station up to UniverCity.

"They kind of commiserated with us," said Glen Porter, spokesperson for the group. "We felt there was a sympathetic ear."

Chris Rarinca and Marita Wallace made the presentation on behalf of the group, but members also came to show their support, according to Porter.

The group's concerns include cost, safety, the affect the gondola could have on property values, and a lack of regional consultation on the project.

While delegations only get 10 minutes to make presentations, council asked questions and spoke about the issue for another 30 minutes, Porter said.

The city is also concerned about TransLink's style of governance, he said, and expressed frustration with the regional transit authority's approach to consultation.

"They come in and tell us what they're going to do," Porter said. "Regional taxpayers are going to be on the hook for this, and it'll mainly benefit the Simon Fraser University Community Trust."

Mayor Derek Corrigan agreed with the group that the gondola project is not financially feasible.

"While TransLink goes out into the community and stirs things up, there isn't any money to be able to put on this gondola project," Corrigan said in a phone interview Monday. "TransLink should not be spending money on gon-dolas when it cannot afford the existing service."

The company has told the public and the media repeatedly that there isn't enough money in the budget to cover current costs, he said.

"If that's true, why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola?" Corrigan said. "It's never been a priority to the region."

Replacing existing service should not be a priority at this point, he added.

"They're putting the cart before the horse," Corrigan said, adding that it is emblematic of the problems at TransLink.

TransLink began meeting with stakeholders in the Burnaby Mountain area last fall and finished its public consultations on the project in June, according to TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie.

The company's report on the consultations could be ready this week, he added.

The company awarded the business case study to consulting firm CH2M Hill last winter. The business case is not ready to be distributed as of yet, Hardie said.

If the business case supports moving forward with the project, he added, the company would have to look into whether or not it can design a system that addresses Forest Grove residents' concerns.

However, the gondola would have to take its place on the list of TransLink's priorities, after projects like the Evergreen Line, Hardie said.

TransLink is primarily considering a three-rope gondola system, though other systems have also been suggested and looked into. The gondola would run about 40 metres above the ground and tree canopy, over the Forest Grove neighbourhood, according to TransLink.

The line would include five towers, up to 70 metres tall.

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