All options for Whistler's asphalt plant are still on the table following Tuesday night's public council meeting - in fact, councillors seemed to end the evening with more questions than ever.
During a lengthy discussion at MY Millennium Place, council members grilled municipal staff about the details of the nine options being considered for the plant that currently sits next to the new Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood. The volley of questions ranged from the logistics of aggregate piles to siphoning energy from the Rutherford power plant.
In the end, council referred the report back to staff, who will now distill the nine options and come back with recommendations.
Whether there is a particular option staff is eyeing is unclear.
"Council is aware of some aspects of the direction staff is taking, but we want to make it possible for staff to work as freely as possible with the owner and all will be revealed in good time," said Mayor Ken Melamed, following the meeting.
"We are not saying anything more about what staff is doing at this point in time."
Once council agrees on an option it will be presented at a community open house, likely sometime in May.
While there is an appetite among some councillors to ensure the plant is relocated council has yet to take an official stance. An option to upgrade the plant at its current location is also in play.
Councillor Ralph Forsyth spoke to this with concern during the meeting.
"I want to make it very clear to everyone that removing the plant is the ultimate object of council, and that there is great clarity around that," said the second-term councillor.
"What I think would be best for council at this point in time would be to provide more clear direction to staff about how to proceed."
Councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Grant Lamont also showed interest in narrowing down the options Tuesday.
The plant - operated by Burnaby-based company Alpine Paving - has been operating next to the Cheakamus Crossing site for 16 years. Council decided to relocate the plant late last year after 100 angry people who had recently bought into the new neighbourhood attended a council meeting.
The homeowners all signed disclosure statements when they purchased their homes, but many didn't realize the proximity of the asphalt plant to Cheakamus Crossing. Now, many of those homeowners are concerned about the health risk of living so close to an operating asphalt plant.
Forty people attended Tuesday's council meeting and the Facebook group set up by the new homeowners was a flurry of activity later that evening.
Several people voiced concerns on the page that the options to upgrade the plant or relocate it to a nearby site in Cheakamus have not yet been ruled out.
"Why is it that when the council asks the municipality to find a new location for the plant, far from the community, that they are presented with a long-winded report based on statistical assumptions and more importantly was concerned with a band-aid solution of upgrading the plant?" wrote Natasha Fremont, who along with her husband Sebastien, has been quite outspoken on the issue.
Meanwhile, it is unclear how other stakeholders are involved in the discussion. A call to Frank Silveri, the plant's operator, by Pique Newsmagazine went unanswered on Wednesday morning.
The mayor said during the council meeting that municipal staff and the owner are working through the solution.
The three potential sites where the plant could be located are Callaghan-Brandywine, north of Emerald Estates, or about 500 metres north or west of the existing quarry in Cheakamus. In a report prepared by Jasper Projects Ltd. entitled Alpine Paving Plant Proposed Relocation consultants wrote all the potential sites have constraints and further investigation is required.
They also estimate relocating the plant to cost between $1 million and $2 million. Upgrades to the plant to reduce its emissions, on the other hand, would likely be about $1 million. Money was not a discussion point at Tuesday night's council meeting.
On Tuesday, Melamed stressed to council members that the report is only a first step in relocating the plant and that making decisions on which options council wants to pursue would be premature.
"This is really a high level view to just represent what the scope and scale would be, understanding that there is a margin of error here," said the mayor.
Meanwhile, the health risks to the future residents of Cheakamus Crossing if the plant isn't moved also are unknown, although municipal staff and the consultants seemed confident that the provincial guidelines currently met by the plant are conservative.
"From a toxicology point of view, those guidelines are set to ensure the health and safety of the public," said Harry Kim, general manager of environmental services for the municipality, following questioning by Councillor Ted Milner.
Whistler residents can find the consultants' report in the latest council package posted on the municipality's website, Whistler.ca.
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