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Whistler municipality gaining more opponents as asphalt plant controversy escalates

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A group of Whistler homeowners took to the streets on July 24 to vent their frustration with Whistler council's refusal to relocate a toxin-belching asphalt plant, just metres from their new homes in Whistler's Athletes Village.

This is one of several Olympic-related protests held in Whistler to date. In 2009, residents protested the clearing of Whistler's last remaining urban forest to construct the 2010 Celebration Plaza and destruction of a rare, red-listed wetland to house the new "green" hydrogen bus refueling station.

Like the now-infamous Love Canal neighbourhood in New York State, Whistler's latest community was also marketed as a "dream" community, nestled between Whistler's pristine mountains, lakes and natural areas.

Many people will remember how Love Canal became synonymous with low-level chemical exposures and incidences of cancer. Similarly, Whistler residents are questioning the health effects of having a carcinogen-spewing asphalt plant so close to their new homes.

Whistler Olympic legacy anything but green

It appears that Whistler's newest development is neither sustainable, nor a bona fide Olympic legacy. For many owners, the decision to buy a home in the Athletes Village has tuned into a nightmare.

The Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood was marketed as "... built on the foundations of community, adventure and sustainability, destined to become Whistler's greatest Olympic legacy, and designed to meet the highest standards in green neighborhood design practices."

Conveniently, the realtors failed to disclose the neighbourhood's less attractive selling features, such as the asphalt plant, massive hydro lines, decommissioned landfill site, wastewater treatment plant, the gravel pit, along with the dust and smell.

NAP's research and Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have uncovered that the plant never received proper rezoning and that asphalt manufacturing was never a permitted use.

Rezoning falsehoods

Until now, Vancouver's Athletes Village was the one Olympic project plagued with controversies, including a $100 million loan to cover construction cost overruns, lack of social housing and unsold real estate.

While some residents have chosen to live symbiotically with the plant, a vocal group calling themselves No Asphalt Plant (NAP) is determined to have the asphalt plant removed from their neighbourhood in the near future.

When Whistler residents purchased their homes in 2008, the asphalt plant was mentioned in the disclosure statement, but realtors also explained that council was in discussion with Alpine Paving to relocate the asphalt plant. Whistler council did promise to relocate the plant by June 1, 2010, but in the end, the plant was only moved  ba mere 150 metres, further angering residents.

"Whistler shouldn't have heavy industry located next to residential areas," said Angela Connor, a mother of two, who is moving into Cheakamus Crossing next month.

"An asphalt plant doesn't belong in Whistler since it's a tourist destination. When residents move in next month, they'll experience first-hand the smell, the noise and dump trucks next to their new homes."

Connor also said that scientists should be looking at ways of building roads that don't use asphalt and toxic materials.  Like many other homeowners, she is not impressed with Whistler council's handling of thr situation.

New homeowner, Tina Symko brought her husband and 14-month old son to the family-friendly rally because she believes in healthier air quality for Whistler.

"Whistler Council is in a tough position, and there are many different interests to look at. They need to keep working on this issue to come up with better solutions.

It's hard to believe that senior planning officials were unaware of the asphalt plant's existence when the Athletes Village was being proposed for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Will $100-million Olympic loan ever be repaid?

With a number of families already walking away from their purchases and market lots not selling, it seems unlikely that the $100-million loan, issued by the Municipal Finance Authority to the RMOW will be paid off anytime soon.

Most resident housing projects in Whistler are subsidized through a limited number of market townhomes and/or single-family lots to provide the profit required to discount the costs of resident housing.

On July 22, the Whistler Question reported that, "the amount of available units and pace of real estate sales in Whistler are concerns for the board members of the Whistler Development Corporation, the group behind the new Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood. One of the 20 available townhouses has been sold to date, as well as two of the 24 single-family lots."

Eric Martin, the chair of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation reported to council last week that once the sales of all the employee-restricted units have been finalized, the balance should be approx. $16 million. Is this a joke? A $16 million debt  in these economic times is hardly anything to brag about.

On July 8, Tim Koshul, the chair of the No Asphalt Plant group filed a formal complaint with the RCMP to investigate the municipality's $400,000 expenditure for legal fees relating to the May 11 settlement agreement with Alpine Paving and to move the plant a mere 150 metres.

This  controversial issue is far from over with a new emissions control bylaw and a rezoning bylaw for the new site expected to come to council by Oct. 31 - almost two months after the first residents move into Cheakamus Crossing.

Hopefully Whistler's mayor, council and CAO put aside their vested interests and finally do what's right for the overall health of their consituents.

RESOURCES:

Asphalt Plant Video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vq-db9vl0yg

Photos from No Asphalt Plant Protest
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rabbleca/4824870268/

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