B.C. Transit facility moving ahead 

Council reluctantly endorses plan during stormy meeting; final approval from B.C. Hydro still pending

click to enlarge Last Looks Whistler council reluctantly endorsed B.C. Transit's plan to pave a wetland for the province's hydrogen bus hub. AWARE's Sara Jennings (pictured) has been sounding the alarm to environmental groups stationed up and down the corridor. Photo by Brad Kasselman, coastphoto.com
  • Last Looks Whistler council reluctantly endorsed B.C. Transit's plan to pave a wetland for the province's hydrogen bus hub. AWARE's Sara Jennings (pictured) has been sounding the alarm to environmental groups stationed up and down the corridor. Photo by Brad Kasselman, coastphoto.com

The tension was palpable at Monday night’s council meeting as top B.C. Transit officials presented their plans for a new bus facility on a site that is partially wetland. And despite concerns raised by councillors around the table, one thing was clear throughout the turbulent meeting: The issue is beyond the powers of the municipality.

As monsoon-like rain poured outside, an uncomfortable council voted 4-2 to formally endorse B.C. Transit’s proposal, although many councillors acknowledged there was little they could do that would have changed the Crown agency’s decision.

“It has been clearly stated at the table that given any other option, we would have picked a different site,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

“Our commitment to protecting the environmentally sensitive wetlands is very strong. This is a case where we have to find a compromise. It is not whether we like it or not, it is whether we support the choice.”

The land in question is owned by B.C. Hydro, a Crown corporation, and is therefore exempt from municipal regulations. It lies adjacent to the municipal works yard, north of Nesters Road, on Highway 99.

B.C. Transit’s CEO and president, Manuel Achadinha, formally stated that the wetland is the agency’s “preferred choice,” and he hopes to begin grubbing as soon as possible. He added that B.C. Transit wants to “start construction of the facility by next spring.”

Meanwhile, B.C. Hydro has not given final approval to the Crown agency to begin the work. According to Arlene Shwetz, manager of community relations for B.C. Hydro, no formal, written agreements have been hammered out.

“We are waiting to hear back from Transit,” said Shwetz.

“We indicated last week that we need to get from them the final proposal… Once we have that, B.C. Hydro and B.C. Transmission Corporation will review it. We would enter into a formal agreement if everything was acceptable.”

Shwetz added that she cannot discuss the content of the agreement publicly, including whether it covers the land’s ecological value.

Despite this possible setback, on Monday Achadinha confidently exhibited the preliminary design of the new transit facility, which will house 20 state of the art hydrogen buses coming to Whistler in 2009 as part of a provincially- and federally-funded pilot program.

The facility will be located on the site’s southeast corner, and B.C. Transit will try to avoid encroaching on the wetland located on the west side of the site, he said.

But a B.C. Transit spokesperson said Tuesday the agency could not release a copy of the facility’s proposed layout to the public yet — even though it was displayed in Monday’s presentation — because plans have not been finalized.

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